Old growth and Joyce Kilmer: A photo essay from one of North Carolina’s most famous tracts of old-growth forest

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Editor’s note: Arguably one of the most well-known tracts of old growth forest in Western North Carolina, Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness, in Graham County, draws some 40,000 visitors each year. The forest, dedicated to Joyce Kilmer in 1936, celebrates the 75th anniversary of its dedication this year, on Saturday, July 30.

In the first of our two-part series on Joyce Kilmer and the health of the region’s old-growth forest, we report on how some experts argue that the place is steadily regaining the characteristics of the ancient, primary forest that once covered the southern mountains. But the majority of the big trees in the area are tulip poplars and hemlocks, which are threatened by the woolly adelgid, a pest that kills hemlocks. And so, on the area’s anniversary, it’s clear, too, that the recovery of these stands has faced real setbacks.

In the second of our two-part series, we report on how the U.S. Forest Service has chosen to deal with the dead trees in the popular area, particularly through dynamiting about 150 of the trees, using the reasoning that it would most resemble the natural snags left behind after a storm event. But it’s not a wholly accepted practice. Some also argue that the area can’t be considered old growth any longer.

Photographer Mike Belleme visited the forest in July, showing us one view of a forest in transition.

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About the Author

Mike Belleme

Mike Belleme is a contributing photographer for Carolina Public Press. Contact him at mike@mikebelleme.com.

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