The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

Happy Anniversary Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest

By NC Department of Travel and Tourism

Issue: July, 1986

Photo courtesy of the NC Division of Tourism.Photo courtesy of the NC Division of Tourism.It was in the last half of the 1400's that Christopher Columbus studied his first geography lesson and perhaps wondered if the earth really was flat and what would happen if you sailed to the edge.

Johannes Gutenberg printed the first Bible.

Leonardo da Vinci painted "The Last Supper."

It was also about that same time that a yellow poplar sprout took root on the slope of a round, high hill in what is now Western North Carolina.

That tree and others born of the same time live today in the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the creation of the memorial forest in honor of the author of the poem, "Trees." It is an appropriate tribute to Joyce Kilmer, lover of nature and great wordsmith who was killed in World War I.

The forest stands today, as it has for five centuries, undisturbed by the hand of man. It has always been spared from the blade and the ax, and it always will be. Here, far away from the trappings of commerce, the great hemlocks lift their leafy arms upward for more than a hundred feet. Some poplars are more than twenty feet in circumference. The 3,800 acre Joyce Kilmer Memorial tract is one of the best remaining examples of a native American virgin forest. It is believed to be the only such example on the east coast. It is most definitely the nearest thing in Eastern America to approach the elegance of California's giant redwoods.

Ironically, it was the concern of a logging company which bought this land several decades ago that led to its preservation, according to Scooter Brown, who retired this year from the Forest Service. Brown had served as district ranger for the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest for 12 years. Brown said that although the forest had been scheduled for cutting several times, the company realized even then that it was something special and kept putting off the work until it finally went out of business.

Entrance to the forest is 15 miles northwest of Robbinsville, North Carolina. It is accessible from US 129 by a paved Forest Service and state roads. It boasts more than 20 miles of trails which penetrate deep into a cathedral of trees, of plants, of flowering shrubs and of animals in their own special places.

Even the names of these places in this pristine forest are enchanting. Horse Cove Campground, Haoe, Poplar Cove, Naked Ground, Indian Spring Branch and Little Santeetlah Creek - these are the names of very special places, each with its own intriguing story.

There are spectacular examples of more than one hundred species of trees native to the region. The special thrill in visiting the Joyce Kilmer Forest today is to see a great hardwood forest that was alive even before Christopher Columbus discovered the new world.

Among the stars of this great display of ancient forestry are poplars, hemlocks, oaks, birch, beech and other common species. Here you will also find remnants of chestnut trees which were killed in the blight of 1925. Many of the chestnut logs remain where they fell. Rules of this forest prohibit not only the cutting of live trees, but also prevent the removal of dead plants.

In the spring, rhododendron, mountain laurel and azalea bloom in a profusion of bright colors.

Hunting is allowed. It is a favorite habitat for deer, bear, boar, fox, bobcat, raccoon, skunk and mink. These creatures coexist with songbirds, ruffed grouse, wild turkey, owl, hawk and raven.

It is an ageless forest where civilization ends and where the beauty of nature begins. Here, under the canopy of the old hardwood trees, the quickened pace of contemporary life seems entirely inappropriate. A walk into this forest is a journey not only back in time, but also a venture in tranquility.

Above all else, the forest is a special place where man has made a covenant with nature so that what is good from the past will be preserved for eternity.

It is a fitting place to bear the name of the man who penned these immortal words:


I think that I shall never see
a poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast.

A tree that looks at God all day.
And lifts her leafy arms to pray.

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
Joyce Kilmer

In 1975, the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest was made a part of the newly established Joyce Kilmer Slickrock Wilderness. This wilderness today encompasses over 17,000 acres.

A ceremony commemorating the 50th Anniversary of establishment of the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is scheduled to be held on the premises on July 30, 1986. National, regional and state officials will gather to pay tribute to both this special place and to the man for whom it was named.

For more information about planning a vacation trip to North Carolina, including facilities near the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, write: North Carolina Division of Travel and Tourism, 430 North Salisbury Street, Raleigh, North Carolina, 27611, or phone 1-800-VISIT-NC (in Raleigh, 733 4171).