N.C. Forest Service continues to expand educational and recreational opportunities for visitors to state forests

by | Aug 7, 2023

Construction on the education center at Mountain Island Educational State Forest was recently completed.

The N.C. Forest Service sustainably manages state forests across North Carolina. Many of them are open to the public and offer a variety of educational and recreational experiences. All state forests are managed for natural resource conservation with most providing the public access to expansive trail systems. With the N.C. Forest Service ushering in several enhancements and notable additions, the outlook for state forests in North Carolina is bright.

Horseback riding is one of many recreational activities allowed at DuPont.

DuPont State Recreational Forest (DSRF), the state’s most visited forest, encompasses 10,400 acres located in Henderson and Transylvania counties between the towns of Hendersonville and Brevard. With more than 40 miles of multiuse roads and nearly 60 multiuse trails servicing a variety of user groups, the N.C. General Assembly provided funding for DSRF to create and implement a master recreation plan. The master recreation plan will include outlining the forest’s recreational infrastructure based on input from user groups, trail density analysis, forest and wildlife management and natural resource preservation objectives. Among many upgrades, the master recreation plan will include new and extended trail segments, trail improvements and consolidations and recommendations for trail system management. For the more than 1 million annual visitors to DSRF, the master recreation plan has been a subject of high anticipation.

Paul Kalish, educational ranger at Jordan Lake Educational State Forest, conducts a class for students about wildlife.

The N.C. Forest Service also operates a system of seven educational state forests (ESFs) designed to teach the public, especially school children, about the forest environment. Each ESF features self-guided trails that include exhibits, tree identification signs, a forest education center and the renowned Talking Tree Trail. Rangers who are specially trained in a variety of subject matters are available to conduct programs, compatible with teaching objectives listed in the N.C. Department of Public Instruction science curriculum, for school and other youth groups. Teachers or group leaders may choose from a selection of half-hour programs that cover all aspects of the forest environment including soil, water, wildlife, timber and forest management.

Bladen Lakes State Forest, sometimes referred to as the “enchanted forest” is roughly 50 miles northwest of Wilmington.

Located in Lincoln and Gaston counties, Mountain Island ESF continues to expand its education center set to open later in 2023. A picturesque slice of nature featuring abundant plant and animal life, Mountain Island ESF will feature classes and exhibits designed to educate school children, forestry professionals and the public about the importance of North Carolina’s forest health.

In addition to the improvements being made to select state forests across the state, the N.C. Forest Service recently acquired an 848-acre tract in Stokes County from the Piedmont Land Conservancy, previously known as the “Shoebuckle” property, that will be known as Dan River Educational State Forest. In addition to its historical significance, Dan River ESF will serve as the home for a future segment of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail as well as create the opportunity for a new river access on the Dan River State Trail. This acquisition will also protect more than a mile of forested buffer on the Dan River and almost two miles of tributary creeks, benefiting water quality downstream.

Another notable addition to the state forest network was the inauguration of Broyhill State Forest in Caldwell County. The result of a collaboration among local residents, conservationist groups and state agencies, the more than 400-acre tract will help protect the Yadkin River Watershed and ultimately produce educational and recreational opportunities. With the acquisitions of Dan River ESF and Broyhill State Forest, the N.C. Forest Service now manages 13 forests across the state.

North Carolina’s state forests continue to be a popular place for people from all walks of life to drop in, learn something new and find peace in nature. Whether you’re making memories while horseback riding at DuPont, stepping back in time through Turnbull Creek’s Naval Stores Exhibit or walking through the enchanted forest at Bladen Lakes, rangers at North Carolina’s state forests are ready to teach visitors something new about the natural resources that thrive in their areas while hoping to inspire others to treasure the outdoors, just as they do.