Epic Games founder and conservationist Tim Sweeney is the 7,000 acres of Box Creek Wilderness in western North Carolina.
While the land is still privately owned, Sweeney donated a conservation easement, a legally binding contract restricting land use, to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, preserving the pristine wilderness area.
Sweeney paid $15 million for Box Creek Wilderness, which was being threatened by a power company that wanted to carve the land up to run power lines through it. Sweeney fought the power company’s plans, and eventually purchased it outright.
“It was an opportunity to buy the best and most biodiverse natural areas,” he told a local newspaper. “Box Creek had approximately 5,000 acres owned by developers. The next time there’s a real estate boom, we won’t be able to protect these lands.”
Sweeney started buying ecologically important lands across his home state of North Carolina in 2008, after the collapse of real estate. His purchases amount to over 40,000 acres across the state, making him one of North Carolina’s largest private landowners, but his efforts are strategic. It’s not just that he wants to conserve land, but that he is creating biological corridors and nature preserves.
Among the gaming community, Sweeney is known as the developer of ZZT and the founder of Epic Games, which created the Unreal Engine technology that powers many online worlds and holds the Guinness World Records award as the “most successful video game engine”. The Unreal Engine is used in over 408 video game worlds.
Sweeney is not the first tech entrepreneur turned conservationist that is buying up massive amounts of land to save them. In 2015, Chinese businessman Jack Ma bought the [28,000-acre Brandon Park] in the Adirondacks of New York. Brandon Park isMa’s first conservation investment outside of China, though according to Time magazine the billionaire puts about 0.3 percent of Alibaba’s annual $12.2 billion revenue into environmental protection projects, for a total value $36.6 million.