By Emma Castleberry
The Long Branch Environmental Education Center protects more than 1,400 acres of land, including four watersheds that feed the Big Sandy Mush Creek and more than five acres of wetlands on the French Broad River. “We encourage the public to reconnect with nature in the most biodiverse ecosystem on this Great Turtle Island continent,” says Long Branch executive director Paul Gallimore. “Every environmental education center has the intention of enhancing the feeling of connectedness to a particular place in the ecosystem, and Long Branch shares this intention. We try to share strategies of ecological sustainability with the wider community, showing how the human family can regain our ability to live in interactive peace with every aspect of the natural world.” Long Branch, just 18 miles northwest of Asheville in the Newfound Mountains, is open to the public daily throughout the year and features hiking trails, camping and a pond stocked with rainbow trout. The center also provides a variety of opportunities for education, including demonstrations about solar power and guided tours of the property’s permaculture design and edible landscaping.
In 1974, 125 acres were set aside as an ecological sanctuary and land trust. “Within a few months,” says Gallimore, “we realized that we also wanted to develop our practices and programs of environmental education to extend the mission of CEDARS: land conservation, ecology, design, demonstration, advocacy, research, resilience, reciprocity and sustainability.” To that end, there is always something going on at Long Branch: from summer berry picking to plant walkabouts to apple cider pressing. For the more academically-minded, there are full courses and practicums on sustainable building design, energy efficiency and ecological restoration. Anyone interested in solar power or off-grid living will find much of interest at Long Branch: the property’s structures include a passive solar office and staff residence, a passive solar cabin, two attached solar greenhouses, three composting toilets, one passive solar conference center and a 100-year-old farm house that has been retrofitted with energy conservation features.
Dr. Greg Olson, an environmental home designer and educator, discovered Long Branch Environmental Education Center while living in Sandy Mush Valley in 1978. “As an educator, Long Branch offers an example of sustainability on a small footprint of land that has been built on for 40 years,” he says. “Its simplicity of designs and comprehensive use of available on-site resources inspire students with affordable possibilities for living lightly on the land.” Olson says one of the most important features of Long Branch is the center’s accessibility. “Long Branch has never charged a fee to the students or faculty and simply asks for support with a donation jar for whoever wishes to contribute.”
Paula Bell, a board member for Long Branch, has been visiting the center for more than 30 years. “Long Branch has a strong essence of place, both ancient and timeless,” she says. “It’s a place to delight in the interplay of light on water, while watching the trout move slowly towards the shade, a place to soak in the beauty of nature.”
Long Branch is located at 278 Boyd Cove Road in Leicester. For more information, visit LongBranchEEC.org.