On Saturday, April 30, the WNC Nature Center is proud to celebrate the opening of a premier exhibit featuring the center’s newest guests: a pair of juvenile cougars. The event marks the first time since 2007 that the center has exhibited cougars, a species native to Western North Carolina but that is no longer found in the wild in this region. “This is really exciting for us and a great opportunity for people in Western North Carolina to see an animal that has distinct and deep roots in the region,” said WNC Nature Center Director Chris Gentile.
The grand opening, beginning at 10 a.m., will be accompanied by plenty of fanfare, including a performance by Asheville High’s “Cougar” mascot and pep band outside the center’s entrance and a dance by members of the Cherokee Nation, which has a natural and spiritual connection to the cougar. An assortment of speakers, including Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy will usher in the ribbon cutting at 11 a.m.
The male cougars, acquired from the Oregon Zoo in Portland, arrived at the WNC Nature Center in September when they were a few weeks old. They had been found abandoned in the wild by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and turned over to the zoo, which contacted the WNC Nature Center. The center’s name was on a national Association of Zoos and Aquariums registry in search of cougars to replace the beloved cougar Val, who died in 2007 of old age. After zoo officials contacted the WNC Nature Center, one of the center’s animal curators flew to Oregon to pick up the cubs.
“It was a genuinely serendipitous opportunity both for the cougars and for us,” Gentile says. “This is a perfect example of how we work with other zoos within the AZA.”
Since they arrived, the cougars have been living in a backup habitat out of the public eye while WNC Nature Center staff worked to get them used to the sights, sounds and scents they will encounter at the center.
To acclimatize the cubs to the presence of people, center staff sat outside the enclosure and talked, made noises and even read to the cougars to get them comfortable with the sound of voices.
“You don’t ever want to rush them, “ Gentile says. “It was a long acclimatization process.”
The eight-month-old cougars have already had a chance to explore the new exhibit, but Saturday’s ribbon cutting will mark the first time the public will be able to see them in the state-of-the-art habitat, designed to maximize the comfort of the animals and the interactive experience of visitors.
Even then, Gentile says, the cougars may prefer to hide and conceal themselves, as the exhibit has been designed with those comforts in mind to minimize stress on the cougars and make them feel secure in their new habitat.
The WNC Nature Center’s mission is to increase public awareness and understanding of the natural environment of Western North Carolina. Featuring over 150 animals including otters, black bear and red wolf, the Center is open from 10:00 – 5:00 daily.
The Center is operated by the City of Asheville and is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
The Asheville Fire Department has a new high-tech guest: a newly-acquired robot designed to aid in the department in hazardous materials responses will allow firefighters to handle especially dangerous situations while maintaining a safe distance. The Talon robot, designed by QinetiQ North America, comes thanks to federal Department of Homeland Security funds allocated to supply the equipment to North Carolina’s seven Regional Response Teams. Regional Response Teams (RRTs) are strategically located throughout the state in order to provide specialized equipment and expertise in case of HAZMAT calls. The Asheville Fire Department is the host agency of RRT 6, which responds to calls in the 20 westernmost counties in North Carolina. The department bids every two years to maintain the role, and has been the host agency since the statewide response system was developed in 1996.
The new robot, says Captain Shane Mackey, is similar to those used in bomb situations in Afghanistan and provides a greater level of safety to responders. It also reduces the number of people on a call who need to go into what HAZMAT responders call the “Hot Zone.” The all-terrain robot is operated remotely, its four cameras, including night-vision and 300X zoom capability, feeding to a portable isolated computer unit operators use for navigation.
Mackey points out that the robot can can operate under water, can withstand a bomb blast, and is strong enough to drag a victim away from the scene of an emergency. Two-way audio communication links allow the machine’s operators to communicate with people on the scene as well.
“There are so many applications,” Mackey says. “It offers us a lot more options.”
Mackey says that the HAZMAT team will soon meet with the Asheville Police Department and its bomb squad to cross train on the equipment.
Click the image below to see the Talon robot in action.
April is a great time to see spring blossoms in the City of Asheville’s park and recreation facilities, and one of the best places to view them is at Riverside Cemetery. The historic cemetery is home to hundreds of dogwoods, azaleas and other flowering trees and bushes that are in full bloom this time of year.
The 87-acre Riverside Cemetery, located in the Montford Historic District, is maintained by the City of Asheville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department, and is open to visitors between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily. Click here for contact information and information about the cemetery.
Click here to read more about the City of Asheville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts facilities.
Offering employees the ability to learn and advance professionally benefits the employees themselves and an organization as a whole. That’s the guiding point behind the City of Asheville’s apprenticeship partnership, operated through the Public Works Department, that provides employees in the Streets Division the opportunity to earn labor journeyman certification through the N.C. Department of Labor.
In May, the division expects to graduate 11 employees who chose to go through the apprenticeship and have completed the necessary requirements to receive their journeyman certifications.
The program, a hybrid of classroom and field work, has been offered for the Streets Division employees since 2002. “They get their journeyman’s card and the city ends up with a highly cross-trained and experienced employee,” says Assistant Director of Public Works David Foster.
The apprenticeship program also reinforces the City of Asheville’s desire to foster and retain a home-grown workforce.
Foster, Public Works Director Cathy Ball and head surveyor John White serve as instructors for the City of Asheville’s journeyman certification program. Streets division employees can earn certificates in three trades: laborer, equipment operator and supervisor.
The program has proved so successful that Foster recently attended a N.C. Department of Labor conference in Greensboro, appearing on a panel about best practices for teaching adults. The discussion included tips on forming a curriculum, providing training hours and coordinating with local community colleges.
The N.C. Department of Labor requires organizations who opt into apprenticeship programs to develop and submit their own curriculums, and employees who sign up must meet a requirement of 2,000 hours. Meeting that goal can take two to four years, and so far, the City of Asheville’s program has seen 26 graduates.
And, says Foster, the Public Works department is currently examining opportunities to expand the program beyond the Streets Division and into other areas of the department.
Wednesday found the Asheville Fire Department conducting trench training at Mountainside Park near Asheville’s Memorial Stadium. In a trench freshly dug by the City of Asheville Water Maintenance division (and refilled after the training was complete), firefighters trained on how to respond to injuries in such a specialized environment, including removing victims and stabilizing trenches in case of collapse.
The AFD also instructed other City of Asheville employees from Public Works, Engineering and Water Maintenance on the techniques used in the event of a trench collapse.
The AFD’s Division Chief of Safety & Training Barry Hendren says the training keeps firefighters tuned in to one of a variety of emergency scenarios.
“The trench skills review is one of the several different technical rescue disciplines that AFD is equipped to respond to,” Hendren said.
Parks and Recreation provided the location for the training. In addition to AFD, several other agencies assisted and participated in the training, including Buncombe County Emergency Management, the Enka Fire Department, and the Weaverville Fire Department.
The Asheville Police Department recognized the exemplary service of officers, employees and volunteers at it annual awards banquet, held March 31 at the Crest Mountain Pavilion.
The event highlights achievements of individuals within the force, touching on instances where the actions of APD officers intervened in criminal or potentially hazardous situations. Some of those, noted APD Chief Bill Hogan, were high profile cases covered in the media and others were not as well known. Regardless of the exposure, Hogan said that these members of the department had provided an invaluable service to the Asheville Community.
“This is a special opportunity to recognize the men and women of this department,” Hogan said. “Whether you are here tonight as an officer or an employee of this organization, thank you for providing the dedicated professional service that you do.”
The evening’s Master of Ceremonies was Asheville resident Harry Anderson, star of the hit television show “Night Court” and renown comedian and magician. Anderson kept the evening full of laughs, but also spoke about his respect for the men and women of the police department.
“You guys are extraordinary individually and extraordinary as a group,” Anderson said. “My admiration for what you do mounts on a daily basis.”
Asheville native and “American Idol” contender Caleb Johnson opened the ceremony by singing the national anthem.
Award winners included:
Volunteer of the Year: Sarah McDevitt
Chaplain’s Award to: Lt. Rae Ferguson
Explorer of the Year: Myjenta Spivey
Employee of the Year: Christine Devico (non sworn)
Officer of the Year: Sonia Escobedo
Click the images below to see the officers recognized at the 2011 APD awards banquet.