Haywood Community College recently acquired a 328-acre tract of land located at Balsam Gap through a generous gift from The Conservation Fund. Bordering the Blue Ridge Parkway for 3 miles, the property forms the headwaters of Dark Ridge Creek, which shelters a pure strain of brook trout.

As a natural extension of protected forest land, the Balsam Gap property will serve as a teaching environmental laboratory for HCC’s Natural Resources programs. This laboratory of native hardwoods and plants will serve HCC’s Forest Management, Fish and Wildlife, GIS/GPS, Low Impact Development and Horticulture programs. HCC is one of only a few community colleges across the nation to offer these comprehensive programs and as a result serves a diversity of students from across the U.S.

“Our Natural Resources programs are attractive not only because of their quality of instruction and high rate of job placement but also because of their field-based instructional methodologies,” said Dr. Rose Johnson, HCC President. “The Balsam Gap property will greatly enhance our students learning experiences by providing more hands-on, in-the-field instruction. This property will have a profound impact on HCC, its students and our surrounding communities. I am deeply grateful to The Conservation Fund for this gift.”

HCC students will also be involved in the development and maintenance of a forest management plan and will become knowledgeable of property conservation easements.  The tract of land includes a conservation easement preserving a view from the Blue Ridge Parkway and permanently protects the property from development. The land is also now part of the college’s sustainability initiative which includes the teaching, demonstration and practice of sustainable principles.

“This gift substantially increases our living laboratory resources by enabling students’ access to additional wooded areas near campus. Our programs are grounded in hands-on learning activities and this gift provides an excellent opportunity for many types of learning activities related to sustainable land management," said Buddy Tignor, Division Chair of the HCC Natural Resources Department.

On behalf of the HCC Board of Trustees, Chairman Mark Bumgarner noted, “The Board is extremely delighted to accept this sizeable gift of real estate for the college. We see this as a useful tool for many years to come and wish to thank the Conservation Fund for their thoughtful consideration of choosing us as the continuing stewards of this valuable piece of property.

The Conservation Fund, based in Arlington, VA, works to preserve landscapes valued for recreation, wildlife habitat, history and more. They have been instrumental in saving land in all 50 states--over 6 million acres. The Conservation Fund, working with the North Carolina Division of Forest Resources, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee, acquired this property from the late Bob Thomas, who greatly believed in the preservation of North Carolina’s forestry legacy.

“We are incredibly thankful to the Thomas family and Haywood Community College for their commitment to the conservation of this property,” said Dick Ludington of The Conservation Fund’s North Carolina office. “Haywood County has its roots in forestry, and this preserves a little bit of that history for future generations.”