Each Of Us Can Help to Maintain Our High Quality of Life in Western North Carolina
By Sarah Merrell
We all have our special interests and pet causes that remain near and dear to our hearts. In their own ways, each helps to weave the cultural tapestry that makes up the place we call home. One has to wonder how anyone could objectively decide which interest is more important and more beneficial to the community than another. Recently, this real challenge has stirred community activism as Asheville city officials wrestle with funding decisions for several beneficial local programs, including the community swimming pool, adult outdoor sports programs and the WNC Nature Center, to name a few.
The WNC Nature Center is a place that has played a special role in my life. Some of my earliest childhood memories are fond recollections of trips to the Nature Center with my family, learning about the wonderful wild animals that call our beautiful mountains home. Like tens of thousands of other children before me, I learned about the importance of nature and the value of protecting our environment and our native wildlife’s natural habitats. As I grew older, I began to realize the countless benefits that the Nature Center provided our community. For instance, the WNC Nature Center impacts education nearly as much as our classrooms themselves (more than 12,000 Asheville school children attended Nature Center programming in 2012). In addition, the Nature Center has even helped to replenish the population of our area’s endangered species (in 2012, the Center oversaw the birth of a litter of Red Wolves). In fact, the Nature Center has had such a profound impact on my life I decided to lend my time and resources to supporting it. For more than 3 years now, I have proudly served on its Board currently holding the Secretary position.
When I learned of the City’s decision, I was both sad and furious, like others undoubtedly were when they learned of the fate of the organization or program they were most passionate about. After being critical of the decision and questioning its wisdom, I came to the realization that the best way to ensure the success and longevity of the programs in Western North Carolina we are most passionate about is to fully support them through participation, taking leadership roles and providing revenue. If you’re reading this and asking, “What can I do to help my favorite organization or program,” the answer is simple. Become a patron. Don’t just tell us how valued these programs are to you. Also show us. If you want to make sure the WNC Nature Center is around next year to teach your children or grandchildren about our area’s native creatures, then become a dues paying member. If you like the idea of having a community pool to use for leisure and exercise, then renew your membership and recruit your friends to join as well. If you think that by cutting adult sports programs the city is tossing aside a valuable resource for fitness and camaraderie, then organize a team to participate in this season’s league. By using our voices and our wallets, we can do our part to ensure that the programs we hold near and dear to our hearts are there for the next generation of Western North Carolinians to enjoy the same way we have.
Let’s re-double our role – through voluntarism, financial support and community activism – to ensure that community programs remain viable.
Sarah Merrell is the Marketing Manager for Diamond Brand Outdoors and Secretary of the Western North Carolina Nature Center’s Board of Directors.
Karen Chavez of the Asheville Citizen-Times has reported that The Friends of the WNC Nature Center group have already been working with the city on a plan to go to a private-public partnership, like most of the zoos across the country, so there is hope that even if the city were to yank $450,000 from its budget that funds the nature center, the wildlife park would continue to operate.
To all the employees and enthusiasts (myself included) worried about the future of this and other great Asheville public institutions, take a look at this video. After watching and doing a little research, I’m sure you’ll come away with some interesting questions for our city council: