If you’re in the market for a large piece of land near the coast – say a quarter of the size of Wake County - then you really have only one option. 80,000 acres… Pristine coastal pine forest… Abundant wildlife. And what a location! Adjacent to the Croatan National Forest, just a stone’s throw from the beach!
There’s only one problem.
“Hofmann’s a great place, it’s wonderful,” says N.C. State forestry professor Fred Cubbage. “It’s a hell-hole, but everyone should go down there to learn what forestry is really about.”
OK, that’s two problems for a buyer – much of it is swampland and it’s already being used to educate foresters. But N.C. State has decided, after almost a century of selling timber and training future foresters that Hofmann Forest has more value as a real estate asset.
“And that’s a hard thing to ignore for a college that’s trying to support its faculty and its students and doing so in an environment where funding from the state has been increasingly difficult to come by,” says Chancellor Randy Woodson.
And what an asset it might be. The Hofmann forest has been appraised at around $120 million. That would quintuple the endowment for the N.C. State Natural Resources Foundation, the 501 C-3 organization that owns the forest. That means more money for research, scholarships, and other support. The Foundation also says any sale would include a provision that forestry students still have access.
Despite its value, the Natural Resources Foundation was always adamant about not selling the forest. But in the last five years, seats on the Board once held by foresters and faculty have gone to timber and paper executives.
The Foundation Board voted unanimously earlier this year to sell the forest, and is now in negotiations behind closed doors with at least one prospective buyer.
“Well, it’s a good process because we wouldn’t be able to sell a piece of property of this magnitude and have the kind of buyers who are interested in it if it was a public bidding process,” says Woodson.
The sale of Hofmann Forest has drawn forestry students and faculty out of the woods and into a political and economic fight they are destined to lose. They trade rumors on the prospective buyer – one heard it’s a corn farmer from the Midwest, someone else heard it’s a timber company. Whoever it is, the foresters don’t like what’s happening.
“What they lose is those opportunities and really the freedom to come and go on a forest and visit with your colleagues and your own management team that knows our purpose: education, research and demonstration,” says Cubbage. “So largely we’re losing the three legs of the land-grant institution on that forest.”
A group with a much different agenda - the Onslow County Board of Commissioners - has passed a resolution against the sale - despite the obvious tax windfall that would come their way if a huge piece of previously untaxed land suddenly becomes taxable.
Closing Hoffman Forest would likely impact nearby military bases. They use the forest for low-flight helicopter and night-vision goggle training.
“With another federal round of base realignment and closure on the horizon, now is not the time to endanger even a small part of the military training mission,” Jeffrey Hudson, the Onslow County manager, told TV station WCTI.
The various resolutions and protests are likely to fall on deaf ears. N.C. State officials say a deal to sell Hofmann Forest will likely be finalized in the next several months and could be voted on by the Board of Trustees in September.