Zoo Master Plans

Master Plan: Western North Carolina Nature Center

Mapping Out a Plan

How can people better connect with the animals and plants of the Southern Appalachian Mountains? WDM teamed with the Zoo, City of Asheville leaders and their strategic planning partner to map out a plan.

Master Plan Highlights:

  • Change the entry location for better access from parking and better flow inside the zoo
  • New low-cost exhibits
  • Interactives and play areas added
  • New habitats showcase species once native to the area: “Prehistoric Appalachia”
  • New building for native amphibians and other smaller animals


New Entry

The parking lot is terraced in three sections which traverse the hill. The previous entry was positioned at the upper terrace off one of the smaller lots. Guests had to go up stairs and through a small building. This sequence was not highly visible, not handicapped accessible, not welcoming, and congested.

Advantages to the arrival experience with New Entry

  • It offers more direct entry as it is central to the parking area, and specifically aligned with the largest, middle lot
  • It is highly visible, spacious and accessible
  • Guests enter into a more open area of the zoo where they can decide which way to go to begin their zoo adventure
  • It includes more space for gift shop, concessions and guest services

All of these things create an entry experience that is welcoming, distinctive and functional.

Red Panda Exhibit

While most of the zoo collection are animals native to Western North Carolina, Red Panda is unique to their collection. The red panda’s ancient cousin once lived in the Western North Carolina region. Bristol’s Panda (Pristinailurus bristoli) is an ancient North American relative of the living red panda whose fossils have been discovered at the Gray Archaeological Site in the Southern Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee. Western North Carolina’s climate and ecosystem is almost identical to the lower mountain forests of Central Asia where red pandas currently live.

“The team at WDM is better than advertised and has taken this project beyond our expectations.” – Chris Gentile, Director, Western North Carolina Nature Center


Measure of Success

In the decade following the creation of their Master plan, attendance more than doubled. Director Chris Gentile attributes the growth in attendance to a combination of planning and partnership.

Download case study

Master Plan Implementations


Arachnid Adventure Playground & Enhanced Red Wolf Exhibit


Appalachian Station remodel with new Hellbender Exhibit


New Front Entrance with Relocated Gift Shop


First Prehistoric Appalachia Exhibit: Red Pandas

“When I first started at the Nature Center in 2010, we created a ‘2020 Vision’ master plan to shape the future of the center. It’s been the document that has guided all of the improvements we’ve made, from the new front entrance to the start of our Prehistoric Appalachia project which includes the red pandas,” he said.