The Archipelago at Highland Lake Cove

At Highland Lake Cove, we are dedicated to helping the next generation develop a solid connection between what they do and why they do it. We believe that plenty of hands-on experience – in a setting that fosters curiosity, creativity, and a connection to nature and self – can be a powerful bridge between thinking about what one wants from life and knowing one’s purpose. Our natural setting provides a very unique space for these types of explorations.

As Charles Eisenstein writes, “Imagine a worldwide archipelago of land-based institutions of learning [. . .] sanctuaries of alternative technologies of earth, mind, matter, and body that are marginal or absent within conventional universities. So much of the most exciting work whether in medicine, agriculture, or social change is happening outside academia, invisible to many of the young people who might otherwise follow them into a career, and lacking the financial support and community of research that could propel them to the next level. [emphasis added]

“We need a parallel system of technology development that can guide society as conventional systems unravel and conventional technologies fail to adequately address our problems.

“We need, to use Ken Carey’s phrase, to establish islands of the future in an ocean of the past [emphasis added]. [. . . L]et us call these places Institutes for Technologies of Reunion. They have two main functions: research and learning. For learners, especially young people who would otherwise go to college or graduate school, they are places:

  • To obtain knowledge unavailable at conventional universities
  • To acquire skills that will be useful and valued in a transformed world
  • To acquire skills to help that transformation happen
  • To deprogram from conventional education and have a sanctuary in which to develop a calling
  • To bond with a cohort who share a common vision of what the world can be.

“For researchers, they are places:

  • To develop knowledge in an environment where you aren’t thought to be crazy
  • To collaborate with other cutting edge workers in unorthodox fields
  • To clarify knowledge by teaching it
  • To pass knowledge to the next generation and mentor its development
  • To test, incubate, and develop technologies to prepare them for wider application”

Since 2015 we have been partnering with the USF Honors College to create programming that transcends a traditional college campus. The stories and testimonials that come from both students and faculty are transformational, and we are committed to expanding upon this foundation.

We have already developed a Walden Experience at Highland Lake Cove, as well as other programs that take advantage of the unique campus and the broader area’s links to literature, nature, sustainability, and the arts. We offer a taste of the possibilities below.


Garden Fresh Ingredients & Woodfired Cooking

Our garden and outdoor cooking spaces provide an alternative classroom, as well as space for unique interactions, community building, and foods that best anything found in a campus dining hall. We routinely host a “Life of Pie” event around pizza-making in our cob oven, teach bread making, and provide hands-on honey harvesting and tasting.

Exploring Nature

The campus and surrounding areas provide ideal settings to examine environmental literature and some of the most the unique geology and biodiversity in the nation. Teach Thoreau’s Walden in our lakeside classrooms, trail, or on the lake, itself. Discuss Leaves of Grass in our outdoor amphitheater. This is a space where your course will come alive in a new way. Hundreds of trails, state parks and national forests are within a short distance of the Cove.

The Walden Experience

Aiming to “front the essential facts of life,” Henry David Thoreau turned to nature, solitude and simplicity and found that “in wildness is preservation of the world.” A century and half later — in the era of Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and Trump — his words and deeds offer lessons on designing a life well-lived.  The Walden Experience at Highland Lake Cove is part retreat, part hands-on redesign, and completely based on one of our favorite Thoreau quotes: “Things do not change; we change.” Experience Thoreau’s words in much the same setting as he wrote them — in solitude and nature. Engage with the simple, yet deeply meaningful activities that helped awaken Thoreau — baking, reading, sauntering, contemplation, even building. In this redesign we take to heart Thoreau’s idea that “wealth is the ability to fully experience life.”

The Art of Crafting

We have artisans, woodworkers, bakers, and others ready to share their skills with your students. Build a tiny house as a service project. Construct art from found objects. Make bread from scratch. Bind your own journal. These offerings are about connection, creativity, and community.

Asheville Learning Journeys

The city of Asheville makes for a living classroom. It’s a city whose zeitgeist flows around “designing community,” thanks to an active and engaged citizenry interested in democratic process, environment, and sustainability. The city is a hothouse experimental lab for alternative approaches to just about everything — from democracy to farming, food to business plans. Whether you are interested in creative economies and sustainable business, the arts and the city, or community and local citizenship, we can help you explore how the ecology of this city’s urban ecosystem is quite different from anything else in the South. Meet local leaders, activists, and social entrepreneurs in our lakeside classrooms, or draw on our networks to meet partners who build living roof systems, design sustainable breweries, or market the art scene of Asheville to the rest of our nation.

Endless Possibilities

We are looking for students and faculty with varied interests — the arts, community, sustainable engineering, small business, environmental literature, and geology, to name a few. Make the short drive to North Carolina’s longest running Shakespeare Festival, or spend your time here watching the night constellations and following Thoreau’s advice: “For an impenetrable shield, stand inside yourself.” Let’s reinvent Honors education, one connection at a time.