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College students tour WNC ‘Safe Passage’ projects

Members of Defenders of Wildlife, Wildlands Network and North Carolina Department of Transportation lead the way for students hoping to learn more about wildlife crossings. Members of Defenders of Wildlife, Wildlands Network and North Carolina Department of Transportation lead the way for students hoping to learn more about wildlife crossings. Donated photo

Earlier this year, members of Safe Passage, including the N.C. Department of Transportation, led a tour of wildlife crossing project sites along Interstate 40. 

This field trip — facilitated by Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont and attended by students and faculty from six universities — offered a unique, behind-the-scenes opportunity for students to see different aspects of their environmental studies in action.

With a boom in tourism and increasing population in the area, wildlife-vehicle collisions have increased in frequency. However, Safe Passage has provided several overpasses that allow wildlife to cross the notoriously dangerous I-40 without encountering traffic.

One of the site visits was at Exit 7 on Harmon Den in Haywood County.

Infrastructure at that site includes the installation of fencing and wildlife guards along ramps leading to the interstate, deterring hoofed animals from entering the roadway. Should any animals make it past these deterrents, escape to safety is possible through jump outs — one-way breaks in the fencing that allow wildlife out but not in.  

With fewer opportunities to cross along the road, animals are instead funneled to a new path along the creek, below the overpass, which gives them safe access to the other side.

Students learned that as the first major effort completed in our project area, Harmon Den is an invaluable opportunity for ongoing observation. 

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