Editor’s note: The following Q&A is part of Xpress‘ annual Kids Issues.
Jordan Rutherford, the guest services coordinator at the WNC Nature Center, shares his thoughts on the benefits of outdoor education and the center’s most popular exhibits for kids.
What role does the WNC Nature Center play in educating local kids?
The WNC Nature Center is home to over 60 species of native or once-native species, including wolves, otters and red pandas. We have free public programs that give children a more in-depth look at some of our native wildlife. We also host school groups for field trips as well as a summer camp for rising first through rising fourth graders.
How can parents best encourage their kids to be curious about wildlife?
The best way to encourage curiosity about wildlife is to expose children to the outdoors. Visiting places like the WNC Nature Center gives children a more personal connection to wildlife versus what they see on TV or YouTube. Going on hikes in the woods and spotting wildlife or signs of wildlife (tracks, nests, scat) is another great way to encourage children to learn more about wildlife and the environment.
What exhibit at the center is the biggest hit with kids?
Most children love visiting Brandon’s Otter Falls. Watching our two otters, Olive and Obi-wan, swim around is a highlight for many families as well as the otter slide for children to slide down right next to the otters. The second most popular exhibit would be Appalachian Station. It’s home to our hellbender; hellbenders are the biggest salamander species on the continent, and children love to look under the tank to see it.