ASHEBORO--The North Carolina Zoo has expanded in size to more than 2000 acres with the acquisition of 322 acres of Randolph County forestland to be known as the Selma Trogdon Ward Nature Preserve on Bachelor Creek. The state zoo now ranks as the largest land area public zoo in the U.S.

The zoo acquired the property this week from the Piedmont Land Conservancy (PLC) with funding from the North Carolina Natural Heritage Trust Fund. The land was previously owned by Selma Ward who inherited it from her parents. Combined with another 272 acres purchased last year by the N.C. Zoo Society along Old Cox Road adjacent to the zoo, the N.C. Zoo now encompasses 2040 acres, although only 500 are developed.

The Ward Nature Preserve will not immediately be available for public access. Eventually, it will provide about two miles of hiking trails that will connect to the zoo through the 270-acre property purchased by the Zoo Society, the zoo's nonprofit support organization. In the interim, more than two miles of Bachelor Creek and its tributaries that flow through the vast forestland will provide environmental education opportunities through the zoo's water quality monitoring program, which is carried out by students from several Randolph County high schools.

Maintaining the flow of clean water from these creeks helps protect the health of rare fish and mussels that live downstream in the Deep River.

"The zoo is excited to protect this biologically significant land for educational and trail purposes and thanks the N.C. Natural Heritage Trust Fund, PLC, and the Wards for their tireless efforts to make it happen." says Mary Joan Pugh, the zoo's chief of staff.

The Nature Preserve's scenic features include the top of a high knoll with an attractive winter vista, Piedmont Heath Bluffs, covered with mountain laurel, scattered old growth trees, and a beaver pond. This forested tract provides important habitat for many plants and animals.

Kevin Redding, PLC's Executive Director, is grateful for the opportunity to help protect such a large parcel of land.

"Parcels of over 300 acres are becoming rare and PLC realizes that these large parcels support a number of conservation values - protecting water quality and wildlife habitat, providing a future public trail, and more," Redding said. "We also respect how difficult these projects can be to complete so we're especially grateful for the patience and flexibility of the Ward Family."

For Selma Wards' son John, the conservation of the property brings a final peace to the decision of what to do with the family's property.

"It is wonderful to finally have all our efforts come to fruition and we look forward to watching the plans for the land," John Ward said.

PLC is a grassroots land trust dedicated to permanently protecting important lands to conserve our region's rivers and streams, natural and scenic areas, wildlife habitat, and farm land that make the Piedmont a healthy and vibrant place to live, work and visit for present and future generations. To date, PLC has protected over 17,600 acres in 158 projects across its nine county region of Alamance, Caswell, Forsyth, Guilford, Randolph, Rockingham, Stokes, Surry, and Yadkin counties. To learn more about the Conservancy, and how you can support its efforts to protect farms, rivers, forests, wildlife habitat and urban greenways and parks, visit or call (336) 691-0088.

The zoo is an agency of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Dee A. Freeman, Secretary; Beverly E. Perdue, Governor.