What goes on at the Bent Creek Experimental Station? A group of Carolina Mountain Club members decided to find out. We had a tour and walk with Julia Murphy, interpretive guide for the Forest.
The 6,000 acres has been an experimental forest since 1925, the oldest experimental forest in the east. The general mission of Bent Creek is to study hardwood regeneration. They have data sets going back to the Vanderbilt area. Long and large data sets from over 100 years are their greatest assets.
We went on the half-mile Centennial trail. But first we had to get a safety lecture from Julia.
“There could be roots on the trail that you might trip on. Wind could blow branches in your face. And there is poison ivy, tics, snakes, bees, and wasps.”
Still we all decided to go. Julia then gave us a hard hat. In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, they don’t do any of that when you go on a ranger-led hike.
About 100 families lived in the Bent Creek area before George Vanderbilt came down. The land was burned every year to clear out the underbrush. The field started filling in with pine, then hardwoods like oaks. Now many trees were numbered in white paint, part of their study.
Julia showed us several plots that had been clear-cut. She pointed out the USFS hardly ever clear cut anymore because the public outcry. Yet, clear cutting in the Southern Appalachians doesn’t bring on bare soil and erosion. The forest regenerates itself within a year.
Julia also pointed out oriental bittersweet, an invasive plant. from Japan and Korea. It wraps itself around trees and takes over native vegetation. Yet crafters still use it to make decorative wreaths.
After we returned our hardhats and thanked Julia, we went over to Hard Times Trailhead to walk a 6.5 mile loop. We had lunch on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail overlooking the Blue Ridge Parkway. Since the Parkway is closed from 191 to NC 151, it was quiet. Cyclists were having a ball.
Spring flowers abounded: violets of all colors, star chickweeds, and bloodroot. But the most amazing were the fire pinks. They’re at least a month early.