The Endowment Fund of N.C. State University at one time was on the verge of an unwise deal to sell Hofmann Forest, 79,000 acres near Jacksonville, for $131 million to timber interests and those interested in agribusiness. Opponents of the deal argued that the forest, acquired by a foundation in 1934, was a sound teaching tool for N.C. State’s forestry students and a valuable property home to various species of plants and wildlife. Thankfully the deal fell through, and Chancellor Randy Woodson was open to new ideas.
Now the university’s endowment fund has a 50-year lease with a timber investment company that will manage most of the forest and keep it accessible to NCSU students and faculty for purposes of research. The company also agrees to leave stands of trees of various ages once the contract ends.
The fund will earn around $78 million from the lease, and that will produce $3 million a year for the College of Natural Resources. And the property remains part of N.C. State.
In addition to this deal, other plans for the property are to get contributions from environmental groups to gain conservation easements to protect an 18,000-acre wetland.
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The saga of this deal is strong evidence of the value of getting input from all parts of the university community and taking as much time as is needed to get the deal right. After the sale of Hofmann became known, faculty members and students protested, and they got the attention of alums and others. Woodson, who wasn’t chancellor when the original arrangements were made, showed an open mind and a calm wisdom here.
This ending seems a happy one for all.