Grandfather Mountain’s Animal Birthday Party returns Wednesday, a day of celebration and special events designed to honor the black bears, bald eagles, river otters, cougars and elk that call Grandfather Mountain home. Most activities are included with regular admission to Grandfather Mountain.

“This is a great way to celebrate all of the habitat animals, from our oldest bear, Gerry, at 29 years old, to our youngest animals, the elk, who are only 10 and 11 months old,” said Christie Tipton, animal habitats curator for the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, the nonprofit organization that oversees and operates the park.

“We want to use this day to thank the animals for all they do to enrich our lives and to educate people about our native wildlife.”

Between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. in the Nature Museum, kids can make animal birthday cards and participate in a "Test Your Animal Knowledge" contest. Also in the Nature Museum, face-painting will be available from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

From 10:30 a.m. to noon, a Behind-the-Scenes Habitat Tour will be offered at a reduced rate of $20 per person. Guests can see where the cougars and otters sleep overnight, meet black bears not usually on display, say hello the mountain’s newest residents — three elk calves — and observe a training session. Participants will also learn more about why each animal lives at Grandfather Mountain.
Space is limited, so the Behind-the-Scenes tours must be booked in advance by calling (828) 733-8715 or registering in the Nature Museum.

Fun and games commence at 10:30 a.m. and run through 2 p.m., just outside the Nature Museum. At 11 a.m., visitors can join in the popular "Thicket Game" at the Let-It-Rain Picnic Shelter.
At 11:30 a.m., young naturalists can work toward their Junior Ranger certificate with a special Junior Ranger program. Through “Amazing Animal Adaptations,” which takes place at the Butterfly Garden (across from the Fudge Shop), participants will learn about Grandfather Mountain’s animals through games.

At noon, staff members will host a Creepy Critters Corner in the Nature Museum, where guests can learn about some of Grandfather’s more unusual creatures.

From 1 to 3 p.m., human party animals can enjoy free birthday cake at Mildred’s Grill.

Also at 1 p.m., young guests can help Grandfather’s rangers solve a mystery at the Let It Rain Picnic Shelter with “Animal CSI,” in which they’ll learn about animal signs and tracks through a series of interactive games.

Starting at 1:30 p.m., attendees can join habitat staff at the Let-It-Rain Picnic Shelter to make special birthday enrichments for the animals. An enrichment is a special treat, new toy or unfamiliar scent to break up the animals’ routines and help keep them active and intellectually stimulated.

Visitors to Grandfather Mountain are encouraged to view these enrichments through naturalist-led animal encounters, held daily spring through fall, as they provide an ideal opportunity to see each animal active, up close and personal.

At 2:15 p.m., winners of the "Test Your Animal Knowledge" contest will be announced in the Nature Museum. Winners, along with one family member, get the rare opportunity to go behind the scenes and help habitat staff give the birthday enrichment to the animal they were most knowledgeable about. Participants must be present to win.

The final activity of the day begins at 2:30 p.m., immediately after the announcement, in which visitors can head to the habitats to watch the animals receive their special birthday treats.
“The animals tend to get very excited about their special day,” said Frank Ruggiero, director of marketing and communications. “They can definitely sense that we’ve got some special birthday presents in store for them.”

Birthday Gifts
Grandfather Mountain offers several other ways for folks to help enrich the animals’ lives.

The mountain has an Amazon.com wish list, featuring toys and supplies that are appropriate for the resident animals. Donors can choose a gift for their favorite animal, purchase online and have it delivered straight to Grandfather Mountain for immediate enjoyment by their furry or feathered friends. The list of suggested items is available at http://bit.ly/GMAmazonWishlist.

Animal lovers also can contribute through the mountain’s Adopt-an-Animal Program. Honorary adopters receive a photo of their animal, certificate of adoption, informational sheet about the animal’s life and additional items at higher donation levels. More information is available online at http://bit.ly/2sYbaIm.

The not-for-profit Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation strives to inspire conservation of the natural world by helping guests explore, understand and value the wonders of Grandfather Mountain. For more information, call (800) 468-7325, or visit www.grandfather.com to plan a trip.