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. 

Field Sites

A diversity of natural areas are available to HBS researchers and classes, from sites on the HBS campus to nearby Macon and Jackson Counties to the expansive National Forests of the region.  Some sites are privately owned, made available through HBS partners and accessible by permission, which HBS can facilitate.  HBS requires a brief written summary of proposed research or class visits, which must be submitted to the Associate Director (Jason Love; jlove@email.wcu.edu) for review and approval prior to arrival.  The following field sites are briefly described in order of increasing distance from the Station:

HBS Campus – Botanical Garden and Research Zones

More than half of the 24-acre HBS campus consists of natural areas and woodland botanical garden, featuring native acidic cove forest (including an exceptional old-growth ravine), wetlands (including a well-developed bog), first and second-order streams, and the approximately 5 acre Lindenwood Lake.  The HBS campus has 2 permanent vegetation plots and a climate station.

Sites in and near Highlands

Sites owned by Highlands Biological Foundation, Inc.

  • Howell Preserve, Whiteside Mountain (6 acres; northern hardwood and cove forest)
  • Dulany Bog (NC 107 & Bull Pen Road, Jackson Co.): bog complex part-owned by HBF and part by the USFS. *Restricted access, special permission only.

Sites owned by the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust

A number of ecologically noteworthy sites, ranging from a few to hundreds of acres in size, are available by permission for research and educational use through a partnership between HBS and the conservation non-profit Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust, and/or private land owners. Sites include:

  • Bracken Bog Preserve (bog/wetland site, some old growth forest)
  • Brushy Face Preserve (acidic cove forest, some old-growth)
  • Dixon Pond (montane pond and woodland)
  • Henry Wright Tract (exceptional acidic cove/old-growth forest; restricted access)
  • Kelsey Trail Preserve (acidic cove forest)
  • Laurel Knob (granitic dome: high-elevation rock outcrop community, Table Mtn. Pine site)
  • Lindsey Olive Preserve (forest and bog/wetland)
  • McKinney Meadow (early successional)
  • Sargent Property (acidic cove forest, contiguous with HBS)
  • Sassafras Gap Farm (early successional)
  • Satulah Mountain summit (granitic dome: high-elevation rock outcrop community)

Sites owned by Mainspring Conservation Trust

Mainspring Conservation Trust is another conservation non-profit land trust partner of HBS. Based in nearby Franklin, NC, Mainspring owns and manages several tracts of lands in western NC, including low elevation sites that provide additional habitat types, including exceptional riverine/riparian corridors with extensive rivercane stands. Sites include:

  • Tessentee Bottomland Preserve (early successional floodplain, extensive rivercane stands, wetlands, low-elevation pine-oak forests, upper Little Tennessee River and Tessentee Creek)
  • Welch Farm (oxbow wetland, Valley River, early successional habitat, floodplain forest)
  • Queen Branch (early successional habitat, floodplain, Little Tennessee River)
  • Gibson Bottoms (early successional habitat; hay fields, mixed oak-hickory forest, Little Tennessee River)

National Forests and Wilderness

Nantahala, Pisgah, Chattahoochee, and Sumter National Forests

HBS lies within the Nantahala National Forest, bordered by the Pisgah National Forest (NC) to the east and the Chattahoochee (Georgia) and Sumter (South Carolina) National Forests to the south. The extensive trails of the Nantahala provide access to a wealth of natural areas convenient to the Station, including cove forests, spray cliff communities, rock outcrops, river and stream systems (Atlantic and Gulf drainage). Nearby noteworthy USFS sites and natural areas for research and education include: Ellicott Rock Wilderness, Chattooga River (Wild & Scenic river corridor), Blue Valley Experimental Forest, Overflow Wilderness Study Area, Dry Falls, Whiteside Mountain and other granitic domes, Panthertown Valley, and (a bit further afield in Clay Co, NC) Buck Creek Serpentine Barren – the largest serpentine site in the southeast.  Note that research on National Forest lands must first be approved by the District Rangers.

Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory

Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory is a 5,400-acre USFS research site founded in 1934, renowned for its pioneering forest ecosystem ecology and forest hydrology research. Formerly part of NSF’s Long-Term Ecological Research program, Coweeta has several long-term vegetation plots and continuous climate and stream discharge data that dates back to the mid-1930s. Note that research at Coweeta must first be approved by the Coweeta Project Leader. HBS can facilitate tours of the Coweeta site.

State and National Parks

Gorges State Park

Gorges State Park is a 7,500-acre park noted for forests, rivers and waterfalls, biodiversity, and deep river gorges, highlighting habitats of the Blue Ridge Escarpment.

Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile-long National Park linking the NC side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. In southwestern North Carolina, the BRP traverses high elevations of the Plott Balsam and Great Balsam Mountains from Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Asheville, with extensive spruce-fir forest. Closest access point to HBS: US 23/74 at Balsam Gap, between Waynesville and Sylva (drive time: ~1.5 h).

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is considered the crown jewel of the southern Appalachians. The 800 square-mile park is renowned for its rich biodiversity, rugged topography, great elevational range, and pristine conditions. Elevations range from ~850′ to 6,643′, at the highest elevations home to the largest expanse of spruce-fir forest. Drive time from HBS: ~1.5 h to Cherokee, NC / Oconaluftee entrance.