The internationally renowned Highlands Biological Station, located in Highlands, is now formally an installation of Western Carolina University, furthering an already strong relationship between the two institutions. Established in 1927, the Highlands Biological Station is home to well-equipped research and teaching facilities, as well as the Highlands Nature Center and the Highlands Botanical Garden, and hosts the annual Zahner Lecture Series, as well as numerous workshops, exhibits and family activities throughout the year.
“Although Highlands Biological Station will become fully integrated as an operation of WCU, that does not mean there will be any change in its mission of advancing research and education on the incredible biodiversity of the Southern Appalachian Mountains,” said Jim Costa, station director and WCU professor of biology. “Scientists, researchers, teachers, students and interested members of the general public from across the state and around the world will continue to have access to all that is offered.”
On the grounds and in the native-plant Highlands Botanical Garden are nearly 500 species of mosses, ferns, wildflowers, shrubs and trees in natural forest, wetlands and old-growth settings, connected by a series of public-accessible trails and boardwalks. Housing, laboratories, an herbarium and research facilities are utilized by research scientists and undergraduate and graduate students. Day camps and other programs based in the station’s Nature Center museum accommodate public, private and homeschool groups in grades K-12. These activities can take place in outdoor settings as well as in the classroom and are designed to provide hands-on learning experiences through games, observations and field studies. Adults can enjoy regularly scheduled lectures, field trips and workshops.
The Highlands Biological Station was founded and operated as a private institution for its first 50 years. The state of North Carolina began limited funding in the 1950s, and support from the National Science Foundation and the state aided significant station expansion in the 1960s. The facility was acquired by the university system through an agreement with the founding nonprofit Highlands Biological Foundation in 1977, officially becoming an interinstitutional center of the UNC System.