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Wednesday, 21 June 2006 00:00

Demand leads to expansion at the Purchase Knob

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The growing demand from researchers wanting access to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park prompted recent renovations to the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center with an expansion of accommodations and quarters.

The Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center is located on Purchase Knob in Haywood County, along the Cataloochee Divide above Jonathan Creek.

Professors and researchers from across the globe as well as students in local communities use the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center as a research center to explore and study the natural world. Use by scientists has increased from 261 researcher nights in 2003 to 455 nights booked so far in 2006. The Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center is considered a model and leader in a network of similar learning centers across the national park system.

Among the special guests at the ceremony was Kathryn McNeil, who gave 530 acres to the Park that made the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center possible.

“Seeing so many young people transformed by their involvement in the research and education activities is exciting, and we are proud of what the Park has brought to our property,” McNeil said.

McNeil, along with Voit and Jody Gilmore, donated the property worth $2 million, which included their vacation home. The last tract was given in 2001.

The Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Great Smoky Mountains Association both provided substantial financial support to assist in the renovation work. The renovations, mostly done by the Park’s maintenance staff, included converting the bedrooms of the former vacation home into dorm style space for up to eight researchers, updating the kitchen, creating a small conference room inside the house with Internet access, and adding a separate public restroom building. The garage was converted into a small wet lab where researchers can prepare and analyze specimens, and five tent platforms were installed that will sleep up to 20 people.

The Friends of the Smokies has secured grants to develop special educational programs through the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center. The North Carolina GlaxoSmithKline Foundation has provided four years of funding for the “Science Teacher Enrichment Program,” where teachers are trained in science techniques to bring back to their classrooms. The Burroughs Wellcome Fund provided grants for the “Smoky Mountain Heights” program that allows middle and high school students to attend education programs at the Learning Center. It also provides for summer internships for area high school students.

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