When the Highlands Biological Station was established in 1927 in Highlands, North Carolina, it was housed in a small room in the local public library. Today, the Station sits on a beautiful 25-acre campus and is a fully equipped scientific research station. In addition to the laboratory, the campus also contains dormitories, a natural history museum (The Nature Center), and a 12-acre Botanical Garden that wraps around Lindenwood Lake.
The Botanical Garden is open to the public every day of the year from dawn to dusk. The Nature Center’s hours vary by season so be sure to check the Nature Center’s page. Our research facilities and dormitories can be reserved in advance.
About Highlands, North Carolina
Historically, HBS has been intimately tied to the small town of Highlands, North Carolina which is unique in many ways. It was founded as a summer resort in the 1870s and has always attracted an exceptionally upscale and well-educated class of citizens. Highlands boasts the first public library in North Carolina (the still extant Hudson Library), the first land trust in the state, and unexpectedly rich cultural opportunities (e.g., a summer playhouse, a center for the visual arts, a chamber music series). The location of the Station within the town limits puts shops and restaurants within easy walking distance, and the community is very proud of the Station and helps to support its programs. But the Station is also landlocked by residential areas, and it suffers from the high costs associated with a popular resort area.
The town of Highlands, NC and its immediate surroundings, are arguably the most biologically significant area in the Appalachian Mountains. The Station is located near the crest of the Blue Ridge on a high plateau at an elevation of 4,000 feet (1,200 m); the town advertises itself as the “highest incorporated town east of the Rocky Mountains.” It lies just west of the main drainage divide of the eastern part of the continent. Surrounding peaks on the Blue Ridge exceed 5,000 feet (1,500 m) in elevation. The Cowee Mountains lie to the north, and beyond them lie the Balsams. To the northwest are the Great Smoky Mountains, with the Nantahalas to the west, across the Little Tennessee Valley. South and southeast of the Highlands Plateau is a series of river gorges, with the highest waterfalls in eastern North America. These rivers include the Toxaway, Horsepasture, Thompson, Whitewater, and Chattooga. The latter has been designated a National Wild and Scenic River and flows through the Ellicott Rock Wilderness Area a short distance south of the Station. Much of the land in the vicinity of Highlands is part of the Nantahala National Forest. Sections of the Pisgah, Chattahoochee (Georgia), and Sumter (South Carolina) National Forests are nearby.
The Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory, a USDA Forest Service research facility and Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site, is about 18 miles west of HBS. Its 2,185-hectare landbase is frequently used by HBS researchers, and cooperation between the two research stations has been expanded in recent years. Coweeta and HBS are two of the likely members of the Southern Appalachian unit of the proposed National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), which might also include, among others, the University of Tennessee, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Natural History Museum of the University of Georgia, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Researchers at HBS have been funded to participate in the All-Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI) in GSMNP, as well as in surveys of the new Jocassee Gorges State Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway, all of which are close enough for day field trips.
The Highlands area is characterized by relatively mild temperatures, with summers being especially pleasant, as daily maxima rarely exceed 80º F (27º C). Precipitation is higher than at any other site in eastern North America, averaging 80-100 inches (2,000-2,500 mm) annually. The location of the Station near the southern edge of the Blue Ridge affords easy access to a great variety of plant communities over a gradient in elevation of 6000 feet (1,800 m), extending from oak-pine and bottomland hardwood forests of the Piedmont, through the mesophytic cove forests of the Appalachian slopes, to the grass and heath balds and the spruce-fir forests on the summits of the higher peaks. The area is renowned for the diversity of its plant and animal life, as documented in a article in BioScience (Ricketts et al., 1999), and few regions outside the tropics offer such opportunities as the southern Blue Ridge for analytical and experimental work in ecology, systematics, and evolution.