Imagine walking back in time through a wildflower carpeted grove of 100 foot trees–trees so old they were already mature during the American Revolution, the settling of Jamestown and the Civil War. Less than an hour’s drive, only 36 miles from the Fryemont Inn, you will find an untouched remnant of the original Appalachian Forest, one of the most magical places in western North Carolina,
The Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest
Six years before the Fryemont was established and days after the United States entered WWI, famous American journalist and poet Alfred Joyce Kilmer registered with the New York National Guard. Less than a year later, he was killed by a sniper’s bullet during the Second Battle of the Marne. He was only 31 years old. For decades after it’s publication, Kilmer’s beloved poem, “Trees”, was memorized and recited by schoolchildren all over the world. In 1934 the Veterans of Foreign Wars petitioned the US government to set aside a tract of land to serve as a living memorial to Kilmer. On July 30th, 1936, the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest was dedicated.
The only way to see this magnificent forest—the oldest contiguous tract of old growth forest in the Eastern United States—is on foot. It is an easy two mile, figure 8 nature trail. The 1.25 mile lower loop passes the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Plaque. The oldest and largest trees are located on the upper ¾ mile Poplar Cove loop. In addition to the trees, there are a myriad of shrubs, ferns, vines, wildflowers and mosses. Rhododendron and mountain laurel bloom in the late spring and easily summer. Benches are located along the trail so you can stop to admire the beauty and reflect on the history of this unique place. Enjoy a picnic in the lovely small picnic area next to the Little Santeetlah Creek.
I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed 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.
Originally the forest had hundreds of American Chestnut Trees, but they were wiped out in the Chestnut blight of the 1930’s. Because they were so rot resistent, many of their logs still rest on the forest floor. Around 1870, a man named John Denton moved to the area where he came upon a downed, hollowed-out chestnut that was so big he carved out two rooms from that tree and lived in it for several months with his wife and five children!
The Giant Hemlocks of the area have suffered from an infestation of the wooly adelgid. The forest service has been treating them and they are making a comeback. But those that couldn’t be saved were not cut down. First time visitors often think they were felled by a tornado. In fact, they were dynamited, resulting in trunks that are twisted off. Their stumps and logs were left to decay naturally.