LINVILLE — On Sept. 2, 1952, the Mile High Swinging Bridge at Grandfather Mountain was dedicated and opened to guests, marking the official beginning of the park. Sixty-seven years later, on Sept. 2, supporters of Grandfather Mountain gathered to take a new step in preservation and education with a groundbreaking ceremony for the Wilson Center for Nature Discovery, a conservation campus.

“This is a very exciting day for us,” said Jesse Pope, president and executive director of Grandfather Mountain. “I’ve been doing a happy dance for a month or two, waiting for this day, and we’re so excited about it.”

Named after lead benefactors Bob and Susan Wilson, the Wilson Center will be home to new and engaging learning exhibits, 16 of which will be interactive experiences.

The Wilson Center will expand the current Nature Museum and allow for an even greater educational component of the facility. According to lead architect Hunter Coffey, it will revitalize the interior of the space, add 9,500 square feet of new conditioned space, 2,800 square feet of unconditioned space, 3,800 square feet of porches and a rework of underutilized space to enhance visitors’ experiences.

“By taking our young kids and letting them learn (about nature), it brings families up here. It brings everyone up here,” Bob Wilson said.

“We stand firmly on the foundation of Hugh Morton’s long-range vision for this mountain,” said Gordon Warburton, chairman of the board at Grandfather Mountain. “Grandfather Mountain has always been a source of inspiration and a place where people come and discover the beauty and splendor of nature, and we’re taking that a step further with this project.”

Robert Clark made a model of the coming renovations, which is currently on display in the Nature Museum. The project is estimated to be completed in 18 to 24 months, and thanks to the Fulfilling Promises Campaign, more than 80 percent of the $5.5 million goal has been raised.

Coffey spoke at the ceremony about his personal connection to Grandfather Mountain, some details of which were so familiar that they got nods and laughs from the audience. He also mentioned that this project is a way for him to make an impact in a place that he loves.

“Visitor centers and nature centers are special places which offer the designer significant challenges and opportunities. They’re meant to enhance one’s understanding and experience at the place, while at the same time not upsetting the place,” Coffey said.

The ceremony was followed by the groundbreaking in front of the new Wilson Center for Nature Discovery sign, and a reception was held in the Let-It-Rain Picnic Shelter.

For more information about the project or to donate to the Fulfilling Promises Campaign, click to grandfather.com/fulfillingpromises or call Pope at (828) 733-2013.

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