You do not have to be a Catawba College graduate to appreciate the beauty of its campus. The campus located in Salisbury, NC, opened its doors in 1925 and many of the buildings, including the administration building and the library, still retain their art deco architecture and timeless appeal. Tradition is clearly valued and honored on this campus, but equally so are innovation and environmental stewardship.


Catawba College has a variety of gardens and natural green spaces to explore.


Catawba College sits on 276 beautiful, wooded acres, and is known for its 189-acre on-campus ecological preserve and its 300-acre wildlife refuge. For a peaceful respite located just two miles from Downtown Salisbury, look no further than the green spaces of Catawba College.


Center for the Environment

Situated between the Keppel Auditorium and Omwake-Dearborn Chapel, the Center for the Environment building was one of the first “green” buildings constructed in the state. The 21,000-square-foot building is nestled among the trees and flanked by gardens and trails leading to the ecological preserve. The building houses the Center for the Environment as well as the Department of Environment and Sustainability. The Center was formed in 1996 to focus on educating the greater community as well as faculty, staff, and students about current environmental issues and to give Catawba students on-campus opportunities for research and involvement.

In addition to being an incredible resource for students and faculty, the Center for the Environment also hosts a variety of free and open to the public programs including film screenings, lectures, and workshops. “It truly is a place where the community can gather and learn about environmental stewardship,” says Center for the Environment Director John Wear.


The Center for Environment building blends in with its natural surroundings.


Elizabeth Stanback Wildlife Garden

Native North Carolina plants grow in the Elizabeth Stanback Wildlife Garden, which surrounds the Center for the Environment facility. Designed as a “naturalistic wildlife garden”, it reflects the area’s native ecology and features a small pond along the rear of the building.


Native plants line the stone pathway through the Elizabeth Stanback Garden.


The internal garden along the front of the building contains a dry creek bed for rainwater that is used to irrigate the garden while also providing water for ponds and waterfalls in the garden. The garden not only provides a natural habitat for butterflies, insects, birds and other wildlife, but also provides a learning laboratory for students.


Fred Stanback Jr. Ecological Preserve

The Fred Stanback, Jr. Ecological Preserve is located behind the Center for the Environment facility. The 189-acre ecological preserve gives students ample opportunities for analyzing ecosystems and learning about conservation management as well as providing a habitat for wildlife and a source of water purification.

In 1998, the Center for the Environment and Catawba College worked with the LandTrust for Central North Carolina, now Three Rivers Land Trust, to place 130 acres of its preserve under a permanent conservation easement, which ensures that the land will always be held in its natural state. The Center also worked with the LandTrust to secure the wildlife refuge, which has also been placed under a conservation easement. The Ecological Preserve is managed and maintained by the Center for the Environment staff, Catawba students, and volunteers.


Lake Baranski provides a natural habitat for a variety of aquatic organisms and creatures.


The preserve floodplain drains towards Grants Creek, includes Lake Baranski, and numerous more recently created ponds and impoundments. A significant portion of the Preserve along with the adjacent Rowan Salisbury School property, Horizons Unlimited, have been designated by the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program as a significant Natural Heritage Area.


Walking Trails

There are several trails that make up the Fred Stanback Jr. Ecological Preserve:

  • Bill Stanback Birding Loop – 0.84 miles
  • Pipeline Trail – 0.53 miles
  • Stephen Wurster Trail – 0.46 miles


Trail map courtesy of Three Rivers Land Trust.


The main trailhead for the Preserve is located at Catawba College in Salisbury, behind Keppel Auditorium and the Center of the Environment (near 2300 West Innes Street).


Trail blazes like this orange one are used throughout the preserve.


Near the sign for the Preserve at the trailhead, the trail splits in two. Take the left path that passes through the Wildlife garden and follows along the back of the Center for the Environment facility. Eventually the trail splits and creates several circular paths that wind through the lake, many ponds, and impoundments. After exploring the many paths, return on the same path to the trail entrance.


The Bill Stanback Birding Loop takes hikers through the woods and around Lake Baranski.


Trails are pet-friendly, but all pets must be on a leash. No hunting, fishing, or plant collecting is allowed.


Biological Diversity

As soon as you enter the preserve, the sounds of the city are replaced by sounds of crickets and frogs, squirrels foraging in the leaves, and birds chirping overhead.  According to a biological inventory completed by Catawba College Department of Biology, more than 160 species of birds have been recorded including geese, ducks, herons, egrets, hawks, falcons, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, swallows, and warblers.

“We have the greatest diversity in the spring,” says Dr. Steve Coggin, recently retired and a former chair of the Biology Department. “You can see both the winter birds and those that are passing through.”

Nearly 70 species of butterflies have been recorded including an impressive 87% of the total number of species found in Rowan County. This includes a variety of Skippers, Swallowtails, Whites and Sulfurs, Gossamer-wing, and Brush-footed butterflies.


Mosses, ferns, and fungi are prevalent in this wetland environment.


There are also more than 300 species of plants and a more than 40 different species of reptiles and amphibians found in the preserve and adjacent natural areas.


Turtle sunning on rock at Lake Baranski.


Planning Your Visit

Whether you are an avid birder, a nature photographer, or someone who enjoys a leisurely stroll, Catawba College’s green spaces will not disappoint.  A few quick tips as you plan your visit:

  • Be sure to wear seasonally appropriate clothing and footwear (it is a wetland)
  • Check the Campus Security Office website for details about visitor parking
  • Keep pets leashed at all times
  • Leave no trace (no plant collecting or fishing allowed)