Around 4 a.m. one cold November day in the 1950s, my father got me out of bed. I was ordered to dress for being outside. We climbed into the family’s ’53 Chevy coupe for a long drive east to Onslow County. Our destination was unknown to me — Daddy simply called it “Hofmann” — but I knew this trip was about deer hunting. 

It was, in fact, my first whitetail hunt, and I knew Hofmann was a magical place, big woods holding many deer. I recall Hofmann Forest had a lot of tall pines, and we got a fleeting glimpse of running whitetails, but Dad never raised his gun.

That was almost 60 years ago. I haven’t returned, other than to pass through on my way to Jacksonville. But a lot of people highly value the 79,000 acres in Jones and Onslow counties that belong to N.C. State University.

Problem is, word leaked a while back that NCSU’s powers-that-be want to trade the forest to the Walker Agriculture Group of Illinois for a truckload of cash. The news got the school’s forestry professors and student body up in arms, not to mention conservationists and ecologists. 

The real fly in the punch bowl is a development plan that includes roads, houses, shopping centers, a golf course and thousands of logged, crushed, burned, ripped and plowed acres to be planted in corn. Once “the plan” became public, the Wuffies denied they’d designed it, and the Walker group denied they’d made it. Walker also now denies any sort of “development” will occur at Hofmann Forest, but the terms of the sale don’t preclude the company doing whatever it wishes.

Because the White Oak and New rivers flow through Hofmann, development on a landscape scale almost certainly will cause trouble downstream: erosion, polluted water, high bacteria counts, beach closures. The Castle Hayne Aquifer that provides fresh water to several communities could also be affected. The forest acts as a filtering agent to prevent bad stuff from getting into the aquifer, the rivers, fish and, ultimately, the Atlantic Ocean.

NCSU has dozens of ongoing experiments at Hofmann Forest, which the university has owned since 1934. It’s the largest university-owned research forest in the nation and, if developed, will be gone forever.

Opponents have sued NCSU, saying the plan violates the Clean Water Act, and that’s probably why the sale hasn’t moved forward.

I’m an NCSU alum, but c’mon, guys. Halladay Hall is supposed to be a place of leadership and example setting. So set a good example. This is a no brainer/no sale idea.