We Scenic City residents are reminded of the natural beauty that lies just beyond every time we open our doors, but did you realize there are legitimate wonders of the world in our midst? This year, we'll introduce you to a few of them. The rest will be up to you.
Claim to fame: One of the largest old-growth tracts of forest in the eastern U.S.
Location: Robbinsville, N.C.
Drive time from downtown Chattanooga: 2 hours, 45 minutes
The sentries of the forest can stand a long time. Some of the tulip poplars in Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest are more than 450 years old. Remnants of the original Appalachian forest, they predate even the Pilgrims, having started their watch when Spanish explorers roamed the land. The oldest trees in the forest are as big as 20 feet around and 100 feet tall. Talk about a vantage point.
The fungus is among us
Some of the mighty trees have fallen victim to blight. Around the time the 3,800-acre forest was dedicated in 1936, the last of the chestnuts were wiped out by a bark fungus from Asia, and history seems to be repeating itself with the hemlocks and woolly adelgid, an insect from Asia. Since the forest is left mostly to its own devices, it is said the remains of some of those toppled chestnuts can still be seen along the trail.
Sign of the times
One of the most predominant trees in the forest is the tulip poplar — Tennessee's state tree. (And Kentucky's. And Indiana's.) The tree was widely used by the pioneers to build everything from houses to canoes. It was also heavily logged. The tallest North American hardwood, it often doesn't take on leaves until at least 50 feet up, making it a prime target for the industry. In fact, it was the logging of the surrounding area that spurred the forest to be saved. The Forest Service bought 13,055 acres for $28 per acre back when land averaged $3-$4 per acre. The majority, including the forest, now resides in what is now known as the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness.
Hike to it
The forest's inspiring beauty can be experienced rather easily. A figure-eight 2-mile loop trail takes hikers through the strands of old growth, with the 0.75-mile upper loop leading to Poplar Cove, where some of the largest trees in the forest reside.