North Campus Project at Highlands Biological Station gets town approval

The multi-phase North Campus improvement project at the Highlands Biological Station was already underway but received final approval from the Town of Highlands Zoning Board on Jan. 9. The project entails building a teaching pavilion next to Lindenwood Lake (called Ravenel Lake on Google), improving the entrance to HBS from Lower Lake Road, creating a pollinator garden on the slope adjacent to the Lake, and making some upgrades to the nature trail that loops around the Lake.    

The project had already been approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers because the project is near U.S. waters and North Carolina Wildlife and Environmental Resources because of the wetlands located on HBS campus.

“The NC Wildlife approval was required as part of the Army Corps permit because it’s considered wetland environment,” said Highlands Biological Foundation Project Coordinator Sonya Carpenter. “Everybody is concerned about maintaining the good wetland ecosystems so we’re all working towards the same goal.”

An artist rendering of the North Campus Plan at the Highlands Biological Station.

Town approval was necessary for building the teaching pavilion. It was approved unanimously as presented.

“The trail will wend its way around the lake to the new John ‘Sto’ Stowers teaching pavilion,” said Carpenter. “This beautifully designed pavilion cantilevered over the lake will provide additional classroom space for students and visiting groups as well as a peaceful location for contemplative respite. Funds for this pavilion were raised by the friends and family of Stowers, an avid outdoorsman whose love of the natural world impacted the lives of many.”

Plans to drain the lake to pour concrete footers for the pavilion are no longer necessary, but the Lake will be lowered for what Carpenter said was to “determine what’s underneath.”

The dam is located between the Lower Lake Road entrance and Mill Creek on HBS’ north campus. The side of the dam that slopes away from the Lake is where the new pollinator garden will be developed. Carpenter said the garden will provide educational opportunities and new habitat for valuable pollinator species that are currently facing numerous challenges to their health. As with all plantings at HBS, they will only use native species of plants for the pollinator garden to attract and nurture native pollinators.

“Pollinators have suffered over recent years so not only do we want to create a new habitat for them, but also to help show our community how beautiful pollinator gardens can be,” said Carpenter. “Plus, we can show them some steps they can take in their own garden to support pollinators across Highlands.”

A teaching pavilion is planned to be built adjacent to Lindenwood Lake.

The Lower Lake Road entrance to HBS leads directly to Lindenwood lake, one of the most alluring features of the HBS campus and Carpenter said not many people know it’s located a few blocks off of Main Street.

“By incorporating an inviting new entrance with adequate parking on Lower Lake Road, HBS hopes to encourage new visitors to discover this resource and invite them to learn more about native plants, pollinator species and the ecology of a mountain wetland and bog,” she said.

Once on campus, visitors can take the boardwalk and loop-nature trail that will connect with existing trails in the Botanical Garden around the Lake.

“This trail will create excellent opportunities for individuals, friends or families to share an adventure of discovery together,” said Carpenter. “Educational displays focused on bog ecology, wetlands and the wildlife they foster will enhance this nature walk. We plan to create a trail that can be enjoyed and appreciated by all.”

The pollinator garden planned for the sloped side near Lindenwood Lake.

She added that HBF partnered with Kerns Land Planning, Bryson’s Construction, and Tate Landscaping and the project is entirely donor funded. Carpenter said the North Campus will be a new destination for members, students, and visitors to Highlands.

“We would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to all the donors who have given to the North Campus Improvement Campaign,” she said. “With this project, we hope to create a space that honors all aspects of the Highlands Biological Station; the deep tradition of education, appreciation for the beauty and diversity of our native species, conservation and presence of habitat for flora and fauna, and a welcoming space for world-weary humans.”

Carpenter added the project is expected to be finished over the summer, ideally in July.

Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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