Highlands Field Site (HFS)

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Check out this PDF presentation about the Highlands Field Site!

Students live in a restored home on the Highlands Biological Station grounds in the town of Highlands, N.C.(elevation 4,118 feet). The campus is well equipped for scientific investigations and education, with classroom and lab space, a fully equipped computer lab and a library. Students spend the semester becoming intimately familiar with the issues of the Highlands region, much of which lies within the Nantahala National Forest. Coursework is focused on mountain biodiversity and biogeography, theoretical and applied methods for the study of mountain ecology and conservation, and the social, political and ecological history of land use in the southern Appalachians. The program takes advantage of its proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Qualla Boundary (Reservation of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation), the Blue Ridge Parkway and other areas of interest to experience firsthand the complexities of the environmental issues of the southern mountains. The Carolina Photojournalism Workshop, rich multimedia experiences put together by photojournalism students, featured some of the research at the Highlands Field Site from 2005. This five minute video shows some great footage of the Highland's Biological Station. This 2014 piece, produced by UNC-TV, features Highland Field Site students Whitlee Angel and Lindsey Ebaugh. Watch Small Creatures/Large Lessons


The program, which is only offered in fall semesters, gives preference to rising UNC-Chapel Hill seniors, but rising juniors will also be considered. Students are encouraged to begin planning with their advisor during their sophomore year if they wish to go to the Highlands Field Site. The semester at the Highlands Field Site follows the same schedule as the University during the fall semester. It is expected that students will complete all the research and writing for their Capstone project during the time that they are at the Highlands Field Site.


  • ENEC 404: Mountain Biogeography, Biodiversity and Conservation Biology (4 hours)
  • ENEC 261: Conservation in Theory and Practice (3 hours)
  • ENEC 479: Landscape Analysis
  • ENEC 204: Cultural and Land Use History of the Southern Appalachians (1 hour)
  • ENEC 698: Capstone (3 hours)
  • ENEC 395: Independent Study/ Internship (3 hours)

Coursework for this field site would be suitable for students pursuing a concentration area in Ecology and Environmental Infrastructure.

Note that HFS students are required to complete an internship with a local organization or an independent study with a HFS faculty member.

Recent Student Publications

  • Brannon, M. P. and L. B. Bargelt. 2013. Discarded bottles as a mortality threat to shrews and other small mammals in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Journal of the North Carolina Academy of Science 129(3):(in press).
  • Brannon, M. P., M. A. Burt, D. M. Bost, and M. C. Caswell. 2010. Discarded bottles as a source of shrew species distributional data along an elevational gradient in the southern Appalachians. Southeastern Naturalist 9(4):781-794.
  • Brannon, M. P. and B. A. Purvis. 2008. Effects of sedimentation on the diversity of salamanders in a southern Appalachian headwater stream. Journal of the North Carolina Academy of Science 124(1):18-22.
  • Brannon, M. P. and S. R. Rogers. 2005. Effects of canopy thinning by hemlock woolly adelgids on the local abundance of terrestrial salamanders. Journal of the North Carolina Academy of Science 121(4):151-156.


The following faculty are involved with the HFS:

  • Dr. Tom Martin, Interim Director
  • Dr. Karen Kandl, Associate Director
  • Dr. Gary Wein, Executive Director of the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust - Dr. Wein teaches ENEC 479

Award Opportunities

Please visit the Institute's Awards & Scholarships page for more information on these awards

Contact Information

For more information about the Highlands Field Site, please contact Dr. Greg Gangi at 919-962-9805 or email ggangi@email.unc.edu

For more information about the Highlands Biological Station, please call (828) 526-2602 or send an email to kkandl@email.wcu.edu. You may also visit the web site at http://highlandsbiological.org/unc-ie/.

Highlands Field Site (HFS)

Enjoying the Smoky Mountains

HFS students on a field trip