This year, an animatronic elk will be joining the newly updated “Storytime at Woodland Cove” exhibit. This marks a major milestone in the collaboration with UNCA STEAM Studio and The NC Arboretum in creating animatronic characters that represent native wildlife.

Students from the joint UNC Asheville/NCSU mechatronics engineering program began the project in the 2019 fall semester with completion slated for the Winter Lights 2020 show. Due to the pandemic, the project came to an abrupt halt in the spring of 2020. With no access to the studio and developing the machinery, the fate of the project remained uncertain. Despite these setbacks, those involved remained determined to finish the project. Faculty and staff rallied together to complete its main attraction – a North American elk.

“Since the pandemic disrupted the engineering senior design class, we have had STEAM staff and student workers jump in to finish the elk build. There has been an interdisciplinary team of engineering, art and drama staff and students working with STEAM staff to make it happen,” says Sara Sanders, director of STEAM studio.

The elk is a part of a multi-panel window display that tells the story of a bear who ventures away from his home to find his place in the world, and in the end, with the advice of the elk, realizes that where he belongs is where he came from, his home of Woodland Cove. Within the exhibit are storybook signs and colorful displays, along with an original score also created by a recent graduate of UNCA, David Freund.

Come experience “Storytime at Woodland Cove” during Winter Lights!