My next stop was the Zuni Pine Barrens in southeast Virginia, a long leaf pine restoration project..
This site is adjacent to the Antioch Pine Barrens, another long leaf pine restoration area managed by the state.Long leaf pine forests used to cover much of the region; Zuni, Virginia is around the northernmost part of its natural range. These straight-growing trees were very popular in the ship building industry, and most of the original forests were cut to build houses and masts of ships, and also to utilize the trees’ tar, pitch and rosin. In recent decades, the region’s remaining long leaf ecosystem has been largely replaced by the quick-growing loblolly pine plantations favored by the timber industry. Another major blow to the tree has been the widespread suppression of wildfires, which are crucial to the species’ reproduction. Today, between 1 and 3 percent of the native long leaf pine forest remains.
So, I had the pleasure of walking through the Zuni pine barrens one brisk morning in late November, observing the open space and diverse undergrowth made possible by recent controlled burns in the preserve. I also met with Dr. Musselman, a scholar on the long leaf pine and major player in the restoration of the Zuni Pine Barrens, at Old Dominion University in Norfolk.
After leaving Norfolk, I headed south to Merchants Millpond State Park in northeast North Carolina, an amazing swamp ecosystem dominated by bald cypress and tupelo gum trees draped in Spanish moss.The park is also utilizing controlled burns to bring back the native long leaf pine forest in the rolling hills surrounding the swamp. Paddling through the millpond, I saw lots of turtles and birds, and witnessed an otter invading a beaver den (which resulted in a cacophony of strange squeaking sounds). Nowadays, the millpond even has a few alligators, recent migrants from further south who are heading north due to habitat fragmentation, climate change… no one’s really sure.In any case, Merchants Millpond is a beautiful and unique place, thankfully spared from the destructive wetlands logging that is so prevalent on the surrounding private land.
I also had a brief stopover in Pettigrew State Park, another distinctive place full of old cypress trees, birds and other
wildlife. After speaking with a park ranger about the many tree species that exist there, I watched birds dive for fish and the sun set over Lake Phelps.
Next update, from Lake Waccamaw and the Green Swamp!