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During closure, Nature Center workers had a wild time adding a host of improvements

The peace and quiet that often prevails at WNC Nature Center recently seems … well, unnatural. But that’s the wild reality during the course of a pandemic.

“It’s surreal, actually,” director Chris Gentile said. “You know, we’ve had the place to ourselves now for about six months. And the animals are wondering where everybody is.”

But, while the center was closed, two employees saw an opening.

“What a difference a day makes,” said Eddie Martinez, a maintenance technician.

He and facilities curator Jason Marshall took advantage of a mostly empty facility and completed a host of improvements.

They’re the News 13 Persons of the Week.

WNC NATURE CENTER ANNOUNCES REOPENING PLANS

The result of their efforts is everything from landscaping to concrete work, improving the experience for visitors when they do come back.

“We had somewhat of a plan that we wanted to get a bunch of things done while we were closed, but we had no idea how long we would be closed,” Marshall said.

You’ll be able to see all of their handiwork soon. This Monday the site reopens to Friends of the WNC Nature Center through the end of next week. The center will be back open to the general public on Monday, Oct. 5.

The closure period turned out to be longer than expected, so the duo went to work in the area of the gray wolf exhibit.

“And the windows got sanded down and primed and painted — all the metal work,” Martinez said. “And then we came in and did the stonework.”

“Everything here was really old and needed to be upgraded,” Marshall said. “So, we add all of this rough cut lumber, raised up the fence, added a gate, and overall prettier looking for the experience when you come here.”

OFF THE HEELS OF A RECORD-BREAKING YEAR, WNC NATURE CENTER HOPES TO REOPEN SOON

With less foot traffic around, they finished the work in about half the usual time.

“It’s been awesome. I’ve been enjoying it, the whole thing,” Martinez said. “Unfortunately, under these circumstances, but it was actually to our benefit.”

“If you put a price tag on all the work they did, had we had to contract that out, we’d be talking a half a million dollars,” Gentile estimated. “So, by having all the skills within our team here, it keeps us from contracting all that work out.”

With families poised to return to the nature center, workers hope they noticed their handiwork in the past six months.

“Oh, wait, there’s a great upgrade here,” Marshall hopes they’ll say. “So, they’ll just want to keep coming back here as they see we are making great progress.”

They’re happy to make a little noise in quiet conditions to make the Nature Center a better place.

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