Weymouth Woods-Sandhills Nature Preserve (2-24-18)
Prior to European settlement of the Southeast a vast forest of pines once stretched from Piedmont and coastal plains of Virginia, down to the Florida Peninsula, and as far west as Texas. One particular species dominated these forests, the Longleaf Pine. Covering an estimated 92-million acres at its greatest pre-settlement extent, these tall stately trees created a unique ecosystem which is largely absent from the Southern United States today. Longleaf pine forests of the time were characterized by open woodlands where widely spaced trees were underlain by a low ground cover of mixed grasses and small shrubs. It was also a highly fire-dependent ecosystem. Frequent low-intensity, naturally-caused, wildfires kept the understory in its relatively open condition and allowed for the fire-dependent seedlings of the Longleaf to grow. Native Americans utilized this natural cycle of fire to help keep the forests open as well. Once the Europeans arrived, however, things quickly began to change and the years of the Longleaf pine as a dominant species in Southern forest became numbered. Clearing of the landscape for agriculture and grazing purposes, logging, and fire suppression practices all combined to degrade the environment the Longleaf needed to survive. As a result what remains today is barely three-percent of the original range of this majestic pine.
Weymouth Woods-Sandhills Nature Preserve was established in 1963 to help protect a small slice of remnant Longleaf pine forest. It's 900+ acres was once owned by a man named James Boyd who, thankfully for us today, lovingly preserved the forest which covered his property as it reminded him of the woodlands surrounding his childhood home in Weymouth, England. Boyd's grandson, also named James, and his family continued the preservation of the forest through the early 20th Century and upon James death the land was donated to North Carolina as its first state-owned Nature Preserve. Located just southeast of the town of Southern Pines, Weymouth Woods is now comprised of three separate units. The main unit, where the visitor center and the majority of trails are located, is over 600-acres in size. Complementing it are the nearby Boyd (177-acres) and Paint Hill Tracts (250-acres). All provide glimpses of the former glory of the beautiful Longleaf pine forests of days past. On this particular hike my focus would be on the main unit as I would utilize sections of most of its trails to create a pleasant four-mile loop through the preserve.
Starting from the visitor center, I'd begin my walk by heading northwesterly through the preserve by way of the Pine Barrens Trail. As its name implies this first trail of the day passes through a wonderfully expansive stand of almost pure Longleaf forest. This area is the Southeast as it once was...tall, widely-spaced pines cover the landscape in all directions. It's a wonderful sight. After a short time I'd make turns onto the Gum Swamp and Holly Road Trails as I headed for the northwest corner of the preserve. I'd then turn east via the Holly Road and Pine Island Trails which continue to traverse a forest dominated by pines but mixed in with other unique lowland and swamp ecosystems. I'd then turn back south towards the visitor center via the Lighter Stump and Bower's Bog Trails which once again saw me passing through expansive stands of pure Longleaf pine. Overall it was a wonderful and pleasantly easy hike. Though there are no vistas or overtly awe-inspiring sights along this hike it still has a beauty all its own in how it allows visitors to step back and see the majesty of the southern forest as it once existed. it's a special place, as I hope you'll see as you follow along with me. So, without further adieu, I present the wonderful Weymouth Woods-Sandhills Nature Preserve...as always...ENJOY!!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.147048, -79.369058
Route Type: Loop Difficulty: EASY
Mileage Hiked: 4.0 miles Hike Duration: 1:45
Trailhead Temp: 70'F Trail Traffic: 25-50 people
Min. Elevation: 340' Max. Elevation: 480'
Total Vertical Gain: 170' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 43'
Trails Used (blaze color/shape): Bower's Bog (red circles), Gum Swamp (orange circles), Holly Road (red triangles), Lighter Stump (orange triangles), Moccasin Crossing (blue squares), Pine Barrens (blue triangles), Pine Island (blue circles)