TrekEast Blog 30 Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest and Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness

Beauty Tinged with Sadness

Photos by: Kim Nix

May 5, 2011

Joyce Kilmer Forest is a bittersweet experience.  Sweetness describes the towering hardwoods, especially the tulip poplars big enough to shade an elk herd.  Bitter is the sight and the fate of the once mighty hemlocks, victims of more human meddling, and rapidly succumbing to the hemlock wooly adelgid, an exotic insect which people brought here from Eurasia on nursery stock. 


Whether rightly or wrongly, but decidedly shockingly, the United States Forest Service saw fit to dynamite down the big hemlocksnags.  Forest Service officials probably judged the standing dead trees to be potential hazards to pedestrians – thousands per year walk the loop trails of this famous old-growth grove; and apparently these officials reckoned dynamite more consistent with the Wilderness Act and more akin to natural disturbance than would be chainsaws. 


I guess the judgment I’d pass here is against an economy so reckless in its pursuit of profit that it would reward the importation of an invader who would pillage many of the East’s grandest trees – and these of a species, Tsuga canadensis, some consider to be a keystone to aquatic ecosystems, for the shade and pools hemlocks provide for trout, frogs, dragonflies, and kin.


So, at Joyce Kilmer you walk into a battlefield, the losers, hemlocks and associates, already down.  Thank goodness, the tulip poplars, even heftier than were the hemlocks, are still healthy; and once into the hardwood-dominated part of Joyce Kilmer Forest, you find that sense of peace unique to ancient forests.


To make this experience of old growth and new wounds even more poignant, I was there on one of those sublimely sunny days that follows a storm and makes one nostalgic for the sunshine of yesteryear, with family and friends now gone.  I was here at Joyce Kilmer Forest with my Aunt Joan and her husband George, who have long been my guides in the Southern Appalachians and beyond; and we all had in our hearts and minds Joan’s sister Mary, my mother, whose last walk into primeval forest, before cancer took her, was here into Joyce Kilmer, before the dynamite.


Action Needed:  We can all help save our forests from exotic pests and pathogens.  Put pressure on elected officials and business leaders of all sorts to stop the inter-regional transport of biological material without special permits.  Organisms should be left where they evolved, not released half way around the world.  If you buy plants, buy from nurseries that sell only native species or proven non-invasive species.  If you have a yard, grow native plants.   Since you purchase food, fiber, and fuel, buy local whenever possible.  Support groups that are working to remove invasive species from natural areas and prevent the further spread of invasive species.  Such groups include many land trusts (from the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust and Land Trust of the Little Tennessee and Southern Appalachians Highlands Conservancy in western North Carolina to the national Nature Conservancy) and invasives SWAT teams (like the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, APIPP, in my home region).  Learn to recognize invasive species, and report any new invasions you find.  Advocate protection of big wild roadless areas, which are much more resistant to exotic species invasions than are fragmented areas.


For the Wild,




See video


We can all help save our forests from exotic pests and pathogens.
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I have never been to the Joyce Kilmer Forest. Trekking and adventurous climbing has always been fascinating for me. Such trips help us to learn more about the nature as well as preserved forests. It was disappointing to read the story of this forest and I hope the forest officials take necessary actions.

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What's the latest update on this? Been a while since this was posted, wondered if there were any new developments.

Will @

The hemlocks at Linville Falls off the Blue Ridge Parkway are being actively treated with pesticides to kill the adelgid, and it seems to be working for those trees, whereas the hemlocks everywhere else are dying in droves. I even heard last week in Clemson that the white-water adventure community is starting to notice the impacts of the die-off, as there are more big snags falling into the rivers. 
Ron Sutherland,  Conservation Scientist for Wildlands Network

The Great Dismal Swamp NWR Web site is

A longtime favorite wild/natural area of mine, with wilderness characteristics and values, is the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge near Suffolk,Va. Are you familiar with this place? I recall seeing it mentioned in the Foreman/Wolke book

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