Open 361 Days a Year: Admissions 10:00am – 3:30pm; park closes at 4:30pm

Learn from the Best at the WNC Nature Center!

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This summer at the Environmental Educators of North Carolina (EENC) conference, hundreds of formal and informal educators came together virtually to learn everything education! At the end of the conference, it was announced that not one, but two educators from the WNC Nature Center won prestigious awards! Congratulations to Alayna Schmidt and Tori Duval, pictured above left to right.

Alayna Schmidt, Education Specialist for the WNC Nature Center (City of Asheville), was awarded the Outstanding Practitioner award. This award recognizes a member of the Environmental Educators of North Carolina who works regularly as an environmental educator, lending their skills to the growing body of environmental education as a profession. The individual will have made significant contributions to the Environmental Educators of North Carolina through statewide participation, leadership in their region, and being an advocate for high quality education through how they teach, live, and do. This award goes to a passionate leader in the Environmental Education field who has focused on building partnerships with various organizations.

In addition to being a guiding force to inspire Young Naturalist Teen Volunteers, Alayna passionately works for equity and inclusion in the outdoors through programming, education and personal and professional growth. Alayna participates in Everybody’s Environment, a collective of environmental organizations in Western North Carolina working to support racially equitable leadership in our field. In addition, she organized the Nature Center’s inaugural Sensory Inclusion Celebration event. Alayna also responded quickly to community needs during the COVID-19 pandemic and moved teen programming into distance volunteering to keep the community safe and engaged with the Nature Center. She has co-led a community call for EENC this summer, and has even recently been the recipient of a $500 grant through the Children and Nature’s Network’s Youth Outdoor Equity Leadership Fund. Alayna supports the mission of EENC and sets a standard of excellence for environmental educators in North Carolina. 

Tori Duval, Outreach Educator for the Friends of the WNC Nature Center (501(c)3), was awarded the Outstanding Newcomer award. This award recognizes an Environmental Educators of North Carolina member of five years or less who has made significant contributions to EENC during their short time with the organization.

Tori is a certified environmental educator and interpretive guide and has been the outreach educator at the WNC Nature Center since 2016. In that time, she has built an outreach education program that now reaches 10,000 individuals annually. She is a one-woman show, responsible for program design, marketing, scheduling, program delivery, and evaluation. 

Tori has made her mark on the Environmental Education world in such a short period of time! She began working at the Nature Center in 2016, joined EENC in 2019, and has already established an education program with a 10,000 participant per year reach! When the Nature Center closed temporarily to the public in March due to COVID-19, Tori worked to offer interactive virtual education opportunities. She reached over 1,000 students in April and May, providing distance learning programs for grades K-10. She is now partnering with the City Education staff to increase the reach of the distance learning program in the fall. All of her accomplishments support the mission of EENC to build connections, provide professional development, and promote excellence for North Carolina’s community of environmental educators. Tori makes an effort to be involved in the Environmental Education community; she has presented at professional conferences, served on planning committees, and works to partner with fellow facilities to further expand the reach of the messages that she teaches. Most importantly, she inspires the public to fall in love with nature and become more environmentally literate citizens. 

As you can see, the Nature Center has a lot to celebrate, including our award-winning team of passionate educators! The Education Team at the Nature Center is offering live virtual education programs for K-12 classes. These interactive lessons are 30 to 45 minutes long, correlate with state learning standards, and always involve meeting an animal ambassador! Check out wildwnc.org/schools-and-groups for more information!  

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