A key source of inspiration for AS IF Center was the historic Black Mountain College, a center for interdisciplinary exploration that in its heyday was located just over the Black Mountains from us. Like the founders of that radical institution, we recognize there is something special about this region. The ancient mountains provide a sense of seclusion for focused work. There is a history of individuality here, a rugged DIY culture. The difficult terrain means that a lot of places have been largely left alone, and in these wild places it’s possible to feel enveloped by lushness, with a visceral connection with nature.
The Southern Appalachian Highlands region is an area of remarkable biological diversity. Our colleagues at nearby Highlands Biological Station illuminate some reasons for this. Located in the heart of this species-rich region of the Southern Apps, we are near the Black Mountains, which are the highest peaks in eastern North America, including the very highest at Mt. Mitchell State Park. We are an hour from Roan Mountain State Park to the north and from Grandfather Mountain, Linville Falls, and Linville Gorge to the east/ northeast. We are part of the Spruce Pine Mining District, a fascinating region for studying earth science, which boasts many unusual geological exposures. Dark skies provide good conditions for stargazing, including at the nearby Bare Dark-Sky Observatory. For more information about terrestrial and aquatic sites, see our Research page and our page about Local hiking trails.
Opportunities for arts are abundant. The nearby Penland School of Crafts has contributed to the vibrant Toe River Arts district with an unusually high ratio of artists per capita. Many of our neighbors are professional artists working in glass, clay, blacksmithing, wood, textiles, metals, drawing and painting, print and letterpress, photography, book arts, paper making, and other media. Asheville, less than an hour’s drive away, offers many opportunities to engage in arts and culture.
AS IF is based at an intentional community called High Cove with 100+ acres of forests and trails, and with a focus on arts, environment, and lifelong learning. High Cove and AS IF Center have a mutually beneficial partnership. Community members often participate in events and social activities with AS IF Center residents and visitors, and the community’s Lodge, trails, and wild places are available for our use.
In spring you’ll hear the sweet call of peepers and several other species of frogs. In summer, there are half a dozen different species of fireflies sparkling in the fields and trees. We have abundant salamanders, moths, native bees, dragonflies, migratory songbirds, little rodents, big deer and turkeys, coyotes, bear, lush ferns, mosses, lichens… New wildflowers pop up each week, and in season you can pick fresh ramps, brook lettuce, wild and cultivated mushrooms, and cane fruit. In the nearby Toe River, you can fish for trout. The night sky is astonishing, mica sparkles underfoot, hummingbirds and bluebirds flit around in summer, and everywhere you turn are inspiring views of the oldest mountains in the world. It’s a magical place.
Read on to learn about our facilities, the local area, the natural history of our region, and local hiking trails. Find out how you can come for a short visit, prepare for your trip, and familiarize yourself with the map and directions.