MEGGETT -- A bald eagle circled overhead, wings beat the water as ducks rose from a pond and longleaf pine trees swayed in the breeze.

It's all part of the magic of the College of Charleston's Dixie Plantation, just 17 miles but a world away from the downtown campus.

The college recently has made strides in bringing in money and launching and completing projects that will make the 881-acre historic property more accessible to students, faculty members and the public while maintaining its beauty and natural setting.

The college plans to make the site an important appendage, one that extends the campus into the natural world of the Lowcountry and showcases the beauty and richness of the region.

It has completed a 4.3-mile interpretive nature trail, an heirloom garden and torn down an old home and barn to make way for new structures. It is set to launch a project to reforest the area with longleaf pine and to build research stations where scientific fieldwork can be done on the site.

Plans are under way to renovate the studio of John Henry Dick, an artist who illustrated books on birds and nature, and to build a 4,400-square-foot building, which will be used for meeting and classroom space.

Dick died in 1995 and left the plantation to the college in his estate, but school officials have said it wasn't used much because it lacked meeting space.

"The key was access," said senior development officer Jenny Fowler. People need to see and experience Dixie Plantation before they understand how special it is. "It's like velvet. You can't describe it. You have to touch it." But after they see Dixie, many people want to contribute to it in some way, she said.

"People like to give to successful enterprises," said Monica Scott, the college's vice president for facilities planning.

The college recently has landed grants from the Spaulding- Paolozzi, Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley, Golden Pearl and The Post and Courier foundations for the plantation.

It also allocated $2 million from the federal stimulus program and $2.3 million from the college's budget to renovate the studio and construct the meeting and classroom building, Scott said.

The research stations, studio and the meeting and classroom building will be complete in about a year, she said.

Mike Auerbach, dean of the college's School of Sciences and Mathematics, said faculty members, especially those in the sciences, have been using the plantation for academic pursuits, even though it lacked facilities. It provides a great place for field studies. "We geeky scientists have been using it for a long time," he said.

The improvements in the works will make the property even more academically useful, he said. For instance, the new trail is "a nice way to give students an ecological introduction," he said. And the field stations will "take us to the next level."

Auerbach said he thinks lectures are useful.

"But it's better when you're immersed in the environment you're talking about."