ONSLOW COUNTY - About 60 people lined Highway 17 in Onslow County Monday to protest the sale of Hofmann Forest.
The protest took place near Deppe Park.
The Hofmann Forest is 79,000 acres of undeveloped land that stretch across Onslow and Jones Counties. North Carolina State University has owned the forest for decades, and its been used for for academic research and other purposes. The university is selling the forest to generate more money for the School of Environment and Natural Resources.
"No sale, no way, Hofmann Forest has got to stay," chanted protesters, who said the focus shouldn't be on money.
"That sends a bad statement to me, to us, to the students of N.C. State, that we're only going to be concerned about the money and they look past the research value of this property, the value on the water quality of our region," said Michael Murdoch. "We strongly support N.C. State's efforts to get money. The problem is, we're talking about a resource that goes beyond the value that they've appraised."
The university said the forest hasn't been adequately profitable for them for years. In 2012, the forest brought in $900,000. It's estimated the college could make $6 million annually on profits from the sale. But for recent N.C. State graduate Zeke Overbaugh, it doesn't make sense.
"If the university is selling this to get money for the College of Natural Resources, I wonder what the college of natural resources would really like to buy if they had the money, and I can't help but think it would be a research forest," said Overbaugh.
"I think there's a little bit of anger toward N.C. State that they have let this happen," said another protester, Deedee Miller.
Many protestors expressed concern over possible development of the land and the impact that could have on the environment and ecosystems.
The buyer of the property said at one time, he did have plans for commercial and residential development, but has since thrown those plans out after realizing the forest's value as a research tool for the university and military training operations. The buyer, an Illinois agribusinessman, said those uses will be maintained.
N.C. State officials could not give an exact timeline, but told NewsChannel12 the transaction with the buyer is moving along. However, protesters continue to hope for a stop to the sale.
"We feel like N.C. State should pull back this sale, have proper hearings so that we can determine the best use of this public property," said Murdoch.
In November 2013, the North Carolina Superior Court dismissed a lawsuit that would have blocked the sale of the forest. The ruling was appealed and the state court of appeals must now rule. There's no word on when that could happen. In the meantime, that should not prevent the sale from moving forward, said N.C. State officials.