Highlands Biological Station buildings remain closed to visitors with the exception of limited visitor hours for the Nature Center.  HBS Botanical Garden trails remain open, and in accordance with University policy masks and physical distancing are required on the HBS campus.  Highlands Biological Station currently plans to offer academic and public programming in summer 2021, observing University mandated Covid-19 safety protocols.  For the safety of the HBS summer community, before being permitted to work or study at HBS prospective summer students, teaching faculty, and researchers must provide documentation of (1) having received a Covid-19 vaccine or (2) a negative Covid-19 test taken within 3 days of planned arrival.  Please see the HBS website for full summer 2021 Covid-19 safety policies and procedures, and bear in mind that University policy and HBS program plans are subject to change in light of developments with the pandemic this spring. 

HBS currently intends to run Summer Workshops for 2021. As per WCU policy, HBS will assess and if necessary adjust or cancel course offerings due to the impacts of Covid-19.

 Workshops are non-college credit programs that are open to motivated high school students and adults. Professional development credits are available for teachers and environmental educators.

*To register click ‘Register’ at the bottom of each description*

May Workshops

Learning to Understand and Appreciate Lichens: 5/22

Jennifer Love, STEM Coordinator, Macon County Schools


May 22, 10:00 am – 3:00 pm

Lichens—these mysterious organisms have fascinated people for years. Spend the day delving into the enchanting world of lichens as we learn their basic ecology, identification, and natural history during this workshop.

Learning objectives:

The student will learn the characteristics of different growth forms so they can identify these growth forms in the field.

The student will be able to recognize the different reproductive structures and conspicuous features that are helpful in identifying lichen to genus and species.

The student will be introduced to the various lichen keys, tools, chemicals, and resources used in identification.

The student will be introduced to the role of lichens in an ecosystem.

The student will be introduced to the use of lichens as bio-indicators of an ecosystems health.

We will begin in the classroom for a presentation (roughly 2 hrs.), break for lunch, and then head outside to practice growth form identification.

Jennifer Love is the Macon County Schools STEM Coordinator who has been participating in a lichen distribution database in Georgia.  She has taught her basic lichen class  at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, NC Arboretum, and Coweeta Hydrologic Lab.  Jennifer and her husband Jason enjoy searching for these unique and complicated organisms while exploring their North Carolina home.


June Workshops

2021 Cicadia Mania: The 17-year cicadia emergence in western NC: 6/2

Dr. James Costa, Executive Director, Highlands Biological Station, and Professor of Biology, Western Carolina University


June 2, 9am – 5pm

The synchronized emergence of periodical cicada species (genus Magicicada) every 13- or 17 years is a natural wonder – these cicadas are “magical” indeed.  Periodical cicadas spend most of their life underground, tapping into tree roots as they slowly grow, and then synchronously emerge in their millions, if not billions, and for a short time fill the air with their loud droning mating calls.  Some two dozen populations or broods of these remarkable insects have been mapped in eastern North America, all with different emergence schedules.  In 2021, the “Brood X” population is scheduled to emerge in far western North Carolina and parts of north Georgia.  Following social distancing protocols, this day-long workshop with HBS executive director and entomologist Jim Costa will introduce participants to the natural history, ecology, and lore of periodical cicadas, including species identification, how these cicadas differ from the common annual cicada, why they have such a long life-cycle, the ecological effects of their mass emergences, and periodical cicadas in myth and legend.  Afterward, we will caravan to Cherokee County, NC and/or further south into GA to witness the Brood X emergence first hand, welcoming the cicadas that have been below ground since 2004! 


Fireflies 101: 6/9
Dr. Luiz Da Silveira, Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Western Carolina University


June 9, 2-6 pm learn about fireflies; 6-8 pm dinner on your own; 8-10 pm view fireflies

Did you know…

That fireflies are beetles? 

That our planet is home to over 2,000 firefly species?

That not all firefly species make light?

That many fireflies can be identified by their species-specific flash pattern?

That over a dozen firefly species can be found on the Highlands Plateau?

Come join Western Carolina University entomologist Dr. Luiz Da Silveira for our first “Fireflies 101” workshop, where participants will learn about the natural history of fireflies, ways of observing and telling them apart, and what we can do to make our gardens more “glowing.” The workshop will conclude with a night walk around the Highlands Biological Station grounds and Botanical Garden, where we will learn to identify the fireflies we encounter and decipher their light-flash conversations.

Dr. Luiz Da Silveira is an Assistant Professor in the Biology Department at Western Carolina University. He received his Ph.D. in Ecology at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Afterwards he worked one year as a post-doc at the University of Georgia. Luiz specializes on the taxonomy of South American fireflies and on global biogeography of the Lampyridae.


July Workshops

Fishes of the Tuckasegee: 7/9

Jason Meador, Aquatics Program Manager, Mainspring Conservation Trust


July 9,  9:30 am – 3:00 pm

Western North Carolina has the richest aquatic diversity in the state. Come see fish unique to this area, understand why they are found here and why they are vulnerable to extirpation.

Learning objectives:

Electrofishing Lower Caney Fork to assess stream quality using fish as bio-indicators. Students will learn electrofishing methods for wadeable mountain streams and fish identification.

Snorkel the Tuckasegee River. Students can observe fish (and other aquatic organisms) in their natural environment. Develop a better understanding of the importance of aquatic habitat and sources of habitat loss. Observe interactions among aquatic organisms.

We will begin with a presentation to cover an introduction of the area, safety, endemic species, and methods (30 minutes), 45 minute drive to E Laporte Park, electrofishing (1 hour), break for lunch, and then snorkel (1.5 hours). Price of workshop includes wetsuit and snorkeling gear.

Jason Meador is Mainspring’s Conservation Trust’s Aquatic Programs Manager. He is responsible for engaging youth and adults in the community in the work of Mainspring. He coordinates stream restoration activities and the Biomonitoring Program. Jason received his B.S. in Marine Sciences from North Carolina State University (2004). He later completed his M.S. in Forestry and Natural Resources (2008) with a concentration in fish/wildlife populations, specifically working with freshwater mussels.


Introduction to Bryophytes: 7/23

Ed Schwartzman, Botanist/Ecologist, Joe Pye Ecological Consulting


July 23, 10am – 3pm

Bryophytes – mosses, liverworts, and hornworts – are colorful, yet often overlooked denizens of our mountain forests. The Highlands Plateau is a “hotspot” for bryophyte diversity due to our diverse habitats and ample rainfall.

Join botanist/naturalist Ed Schwartzman as you explore the grounds of HBS for these fascinating and beautiful organisms. Specifically, you will:

Learn the difference between mosses and liverworts;

Learn to identify diagnostic features of these taxa;                                                  

Become familiar with common moss and liverwort taxa;

Explore bryophyte diversity in the field at HBS and closeup in the lab using both dissecting and compound microscopes.

Ed is a botanist/ecologist with a Master’s in Conservation Biology from the University of Maryland. His professional expertise includes botany, bryology, herpetology, and forest and wetland ecology. Ed previously worked as a biologist for the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program (NCNHP) conducting natural area inventories in the NC mountains. He is currently owner and operator of Joe Pye Ecological Consulting.


August Workshops

Mountains Piled Upon Mountains: William Bartram and Naturalists of the Southern Appalachians: 8/2-8/4

Brent Martin, Director, Blue Ridge Bartram Trail Conservancy & Co-Owner, Alarka Expeditions


August 2-4, 9:00 am – 4:00 pm

William Bartram provides western North Carolina with one of our most important literary and artistic renderings of this landscape with his 1791 publication, Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida, the Cherokee Country, the Extensive Territories of the Muscogulges or Creek Confederacy, and the Country of the Chactaws. Participants will explore the western North Carolina landscape and writings of William Bartram through daily field trips, readings, and meetings with authors. At the end of the three days, students will have experienced the landscape of Travels firsthand and will have gained insight into the 18th century literary and intellectual world of Bartram, along with the cultural and natural history of western North Carolina at that time. Cherokee history of this area and era will be a focus, as will the art and descriptions of the southeast through the eyes of other early explorers, such as Andre Michaux and Mark Catesby.

Brent Martin lives in the Cowee community in western North Carolina where he and his wife Angela Faye Martin run Alarka Expeditions, a nature, literary, and art based business that offers workshop and field trips.  He is also the Director of the Blue Ridge Bartram Trail Conservancy.  He has served as the Southern Appalachian Regional Director for the Wilderness Society, Executive Director of Georgia Forestwatch, and Associate Director of the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee. He has an M.A. and ABD in History from Georgia State University and is a recipient of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Southern Environmental Leadership Award.  A collection of his natural history essays, The Changing Blue Ridge Mountains:  Essays on Journeys Past and Present  was recently published by History Press.


Mushrooms of the Carolinas: 8/9-8/14
*This workshop is now full. Please contact hbs@wcu.edu to get on the waitlist. *


Alan & Arleen Bessette, and Mike Hopping, authors of numerous mushroom guidebooks


August 9-14

*This workshop is a half day on Saturday August 14th.

This course will focus on the varied mycological diversity of North & South Carolina. Macro and micro-morphological features will be emphasized to aid students in identifying specimens to Family, Genus & Species.

Activities will consist of lectures on topics such as: Key Identification Features, Major Groups of Fungi, Ecology, Edibility and Toxicity; field work (forays); and laboratory identification/study during which students will improve their skills in the use of field keys and microscopy, as well as photographic techniques as a means of documentation. Participants will also gather and record a field collection showcasing the rich diversity of fleshy fungi found in the Carolinas.

Designed for the beginner who wants a solid introduction to mycology and fleshy mushrooms of the Southern Appalachian Mountains, as well as for those participants looking for the opportunity to pursue their personal mycological interests, this seminar allows for individual guidance in a relaxed group setting with fellow mycophiles.

The Geology that has shaped the Plateau: 8/11

Bill Jacobs, Author of Whence These Special Places? The Geology of Cashiers, Highlands & Panthertown Valley 

$60 for morning session (9am – 12pm); $100 for morning session and hike to High Falls (strenuous) in afternoon (1pm – 6pm).

This workshop has grown out of Bill Jacobs’ recently released book, Whence These Special Places? The Geology of Cashiers, Highlands & Panthertown Valley.  As reflected in both the book and his talks, Bill is particularly fascinated with how geologic processes, some dating back more than 500 million years, have produced today’s mountains and waterfalls.  Participants will learn the answers to questions such as:

How did the rocks in our mountains form and get to where they now are, and how has that history determined the appearance of today’s landscape? 

What created the high-elevation area we call the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau?

Little Sliding Rock and Glen Falls are both much-loved cascades on the Plateau, but one is so smooth you can slide on it and the other is a series of jagged precipices – why the difference?

What in the world is Shining Rock, and is there anything else like it in the world?

Why is Rock Mountain gently rounded while nearby Chimneytop has a chimney?

What gives Whiteside Mountain its unique character, with precipitous cliffs standing high above a more gently rounded base?

The workshop format will provide time for a richer discussion than is possible in shorter talks, as well as for questions and examination of rock samples and geologic maps.  After about 2 hours in the classroom, we will round out the morning with a short hike to Sunset and Sunrise Rocks, where some of the principles that Bill discusses are on display.  After lunch, a smaller group (limited to 15) will join Bill for an expedition to High Falls, below Lake Glenville Dam.  At this extraordinary site, participants can examine up close how complexly different rock groups have been mixed together, and how their different characteristics are reflected in both the exposed rocks and the overall shape of the falls.  (Note – this excursion requires over 600’ of steep elevation gain on uneven surfaces, as well as rock-hopping around the base of the falls.  It should be undertaken only by experienced, confident hikers).

As in the book, Bill  will use language and concepts easily understood by non-scientists, with numerous photographs and illustrations.   He will also be delighted to respond to questions, whether about the book or the geology.

Signed copies of Whence These Special Places? will be available for purchase through The Nature Center.  Additional information about both the book and its author may be found at www.GreatRockPress.com.

 Bill is a graduate of Swarthmore College and Duke Law School.  After retiring from his Atlanta-based legal career in 2011, he pursued his curiosity about the extraordinary landscapes of the Eastern Blue Ridge, particularly the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau and surrounding areas.  His curiosity led through a wide array of on-line and in-person courses, and of academic, professional and popular books and papers – as well as lots of feet-on-the-ground field work, at times in challenging terrain.  Eventually, it led to writing “Whence These Special Places?”,  which focuses on how geologic history has shaped not just the overall landscape, but also individual mountains, waterfalls and other natural features.  Bill lives in Asheville with his wife Susan and their dog and  two cats, but spends most of the summer in Cashiers.  Either place, if he’s not geologizing or hiking with the dog, he’s often found on his bicycle.