Improvements are in the works at Highlands Biological Station

Highlands Biological Station is getting some upgrades at Ravenel Lake, including building an outdoor classroom, better defining the entrance at Lower Lake Road, and improving the accessibility of HBS’ campus. HBS Executive Director Dr. Jim Costa refers to it as the “north campus” improvement project involving Lower Lake Road and the dam area.

“The ‘north campus’ project entails construction of an outdoor classroom on the lake edge and improving the Lower Lake Road entrance to the HBS campus with hardscape, signage, some more formalized parking, etc.,” said Costa. “At the same time, we wanted to improve accessibility from that end of campus to the heart of the campus, so the level of the dam will be raised just a bit to put an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant path along the top.”

The dam stretches from a small parking area off Lower Lake Road to the bridge crossing Mill Creek. This bridge is what links the north campus to the rest of HBS’ campus.

The dam runs between Lower Lake Road and Mill Creek. The lake will be drained soon to pour the concrete footers for the outdoor classroom.

Costa said the lake will be drained soon in order to pour the concrete footers for the classroom.

“We do plan on lowering the lake level as soon as we can, very temporarily, to pour the concrete footers for the outdoor classroom,” said Costa. “The weather has not been very cooperative, so I’m not sure when we’ll be able to move ahead. The lake is actually very shallow, so lowering the lake level actually entails removing relatively little water, volume-wise, and so will not result in substantially higher flow downstream — certainly far less than we’ve seen with the major storms recently.”

Two other parts of the project include replacing the bridge to meet ADA compliance by removing the steps and raising the dam so they are both on the same level, and building a pollinator garden on the sloped side of the dam.

The bridge spanning Mill Creek is in good shape, but the steps have been removed and a new bridge will be built that is level with the dam increasing accessibility on campus.

“In recent years we have been doing quite a lot relating to pollinator conservation, and we thought a pollinator conservation garden would be both pleasing to the eye and a great way to educate our visitors about native pollinators and how to support them,” said Costa. 

Costa added that he’s hoping the project will be finished by late-spring/early-summer, weather permitting.

The video below shows the dam between Lower Lake Road and Mill Creek and a pipe pumping water from Ravenel Lake into Mill Creek to lower the lake level.

Pictured below is a pump used to lower the level of the Ravenel Lake in order to drain it into Mill Creek so concrete footers can be poured for a new outdoor classroom.

During the winter-season the Nature Center at 930 Horse Cove Road is closed, but Outreach Educator Patrick Brannon is available for school programs, on or off-site. For more information call 828-526-4123. 

Editor’s Note: The photos and video used in this article were taken after two days of steady rain. Below is what the lake looks like on an average day (April 11, 2018).

Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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One thought on “Improvements are in the works at Highlands Biological Station

  1. My husband & I have walked there many times while visiting our daughter & her family. It is a lovely place to bird watch and walk and a few years ago, we spotted a weasel…at least we think that what it was…we look forward to the renovations…

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