Warren Wilson College Land Use Principles
February 25, 2008


Warren Wilson College is an educational community defined by its close ties to the land. Providing context to a mission school in the late 19th century and now a liberal arts College dedicated to study, work, and service, the land has been integral to the formal education of young people since the late 1800’s. For thousands of years, Native Americans depended upon the rich soils of this mountain valley and its bountiful organisms, water resources, and seasonal climate for hunting, farming and trading.  Explorers and settlers brought forth rich culture from other lands and shaped the pastoral landscape that exists today. The magnificent backdrop of ancient Appalachians bordering the campus, heralds millions of years of geological history. We are entrusted with the legacy of this rich endowment.

The visual impact of our landscape is profound. Many visitors who enter the Swannanoa Valley for the first time and see the College’s Red Barn describe a feeling of coming “home.”  They sense they are in the presence of extraordinary “place.”  Students and employees alike are drawn to engage in work, study and service with this utterly beautiful landscape.  While it sets the College as one of the prettiest campuses in the nation, the land is a dynamic component of the institution – it is a living laboratory for the unique liberal arts education that defines Warren Wilson College.

The physical world is undergoing more human-generated change than at any other time in history.  The Swannanoa Valley is no exception – it is besieged by growth.  To honor the legacy of this rich land endowment, it is imperative that our community defines and upholds principles that actively protect and enhance the College lands for those who follow.   

This document outlines the principles that shall guide all land use decisions at Warren Wilson College.  These principles are created by and for the community and are to be honored until such time as they are modified through the shared governance process described in the document.


Principle 1.   Land use decisions shall demonstrate a sustainable decision making process that results in health and vitality of the global commons for generations to come.

Responsible land use decisions are complex.  To insure a desirable outcome, the environmental, economic and social/cultural impacts of the options must be weighed for both short and long term effect.  This process insures that decisions preserve what is valued in all dimensions of community life. All land use decisions shall be weighed for these potential impacts.

Principle 2.   The community shall participate in land use planning.

* The riches of land must always be seen as an endowment.  As such they must be managed for the good of the whole institution.  Because individual programs usually drive change, potential impact on the larger community must always be considered in evaluating land use changes.

* Proposed major changes in land use shall be presented through the College’s shared governance system.  Once presented and discussed by the College community, and the Land Use Committee, they shall be advanced for recommendation to the President and Board of Trustees. (See Land Use Committee Process for further explanation.)

* All decisions about land use are the result of rational analysis tested by discussion and intuitive thought.

* The physical environment of the College is rich with examples of successful and regrettable decisions. This legacy shall inform future decisions so the deliberation draws from hindsight as well as current reality.

* A mechanism for long term maintenance shall be a component of each land use plan.

Principle 3.   Decisions shall honor the character of the land.

* Long-term development of the campus lands shall not erode the rural, pastoral, and partly wild nature of the place.

*Sprawl shall be avoided in any growth of the College;

*Ridgelines shall be protected from development;

*Connectivity shall be maintained between College lands and wild lands on its borders.  

* Factors such as building scale, view shed, appropriate density, pedestrian conveniences of accessibility, handicapped accessibility, and appropriate walking distances shall be considered when developing the land.

* Changes in land use shall yield a strongly net positive effect on the land and the community.  

* No land use decision shall be made that would negatively affect the physical or philosophical sense of place that exists here.

* Land shall be diagnosed yearly as to which spaces are alive and managed and which are dead and neglected. Proposals to enliven neglected land shall be sought from community members.

* Any changes to the aesthetic nature of the land, regardless of the functional intent, shall honor the character of the land, sense of place, and quality of community life.

* Land use decisions and management practices must be tested against stated principles.

* Sacred sites shall be noted and protected to foster reverence for the land.

(The following five principles, listed in priority order, are to be considered together for each land use decision.  Decisions shall strike a balance between these five principles.) 

Principle 4:  Decisions shall protect and enhance the ecosystem.

* Ecosystems maintain integrity when their native components are intact.  Areas and taxa of special biological interest shall be protected and/or created to enhance the educational value of our land.
* The College’s land use practices shall enhance the components of the native ecosystem - soil, water, air quality, as well as biodiversity and endemism when appropriate.

* Areas under cultivation are, by definition, impacted ecosystems.  To lessen impact on the native ecosystem, sustainable cultivation methods shall be practiced.

* Fossil fuel efficiency and conservation shall be a deciding factor when choosing land management practices.

Principle 5:
  The land shall be used for education in a broad context.

* Academics curriculum and Work Program practices shall both reflect use of the land as a living laboratory via hands-on study and adherence to best sustainable land use practices.

* Choice of land use practices shall weigh objective data on best sustainable methods, and honor the College’s principles.

* College Farm, Garden, Landscape and Forest management shall serve as a demonstration of sustainable practices for the region.

* Visitors shall be informed of the principles the College uses to manage its lands and instructed on their responsibility as guests.

Principle 6:  The aesthetic environment of the community shall be maintained including recreational areas.

The mountain and rural setting in which the College exists also appeals to those who seek to gain personal nourishment from the land.  This aspect of its function shall be preserved.  

Principle 7:   The products of the land shall optimize resource yield and prioritize local use.

* Products of the land shall be prioritized first for the Warren Wilson community, then for local and regional communities.  If appropriate, national markets may be sought.

* There shall be a full cost accounting and fair market price set for resources produced from the land to be used for internal trading and for sale to external markets.

Principle 8:   The College shall enhance the value of its land through these principles and foster its land ethos with its neighbors in the Valley and the world.

* Land use practices shall enhance the value of the College land and foster a similar land ethos in the surrounding communities.

* The College shall serve as a good neighbor to surrounding landowners, cultivating relationships that build commitment to the preservation of the character and traditional functional uses of the Swannanoa Valley.

* If and when selling land, the College shall research and consider conservation easements to protect the land.