Tennessee Wesleyan College in Athens, Tenn., got a 92-acre chunk of historic Rhea County land in a gift last week from alumnus, former Mohawk Homes president and the president-elect of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, Bill Kilbride.
Kilbride, who has spent the last decade rehabilitating the land back to its natural state, wanted to unite two things that hold a special place in his heart: the school and the property he came to love on the banks of the Tennessee River.
After purchasing the property destined in 2004 for subdivision as a residential development, Kilbride eyed the land as an environmental preserve, seeking help from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Division of Forestry and Department of Agriculture to come up with a rehabilitation plan.
Once that effort was under way, Kilbride wanted to find a steward of the property and landed on the idea of donating it to his alma mater.
"I began to think about how our generation needs to take the students of today, the leaders of tomorrow, and in some shape or form, introduce them to the importance of environmental sustainability," Kilbride said in a statement about the donation.
"The land has a rich history that dates back to the late 1500s and includes exploration from the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto and American politician and soldier Sam Houston who lived in the area in the mid-1800s," he said.
"For me, it's a joy to share that history with TWC and its students. I believe that this land will benefit Tennessee Wesleyan in the future in ways that we haven't even thought of yet. TWC invested in my future and my gratitude to TWC will be for the rest of my life."
TWC President Dr. Harley Knowles described the land Friday as a "beautiful" and "overwhelming" environmental site in its rich and diverse collection of vegetation and wildlife. It's been dubbed the Kilbride Nature Sanctuary.
"It is one of the most gorgeous pieces of properties I've been on. It's just another world," Knowles said. "We saw turkeys and deer and the cranes that were migrating that day we visited."
Knowles said he took a paddling trip from the sanctuary to nearby Hiwassee Island during the migration of sandhill cranes.
The sanctuary's initial use in education will be in biology classes.
"I plan to use the land for my ecology, environmental science and biology courses for field-oriented projects," said Dr. Allen Moore, TWC associate professor of biology. The land gives professors "the opportunity to get our students outdoors and actually see firsthand many of the interactions in nature that we lecture about in the classroom.
"This truly opens up many avenues of research for both TWC's students and faculty."
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569.