After decades of devastation, a comeback for western NC forests

On the Spruce-Fir Nature Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a forest that looks like it belongs in a fairytale grows on the slopes of Clingmans Dome. Soft green moss covers logs and rocks and tree trunks, muffling the sound of cars passing nearby. The trees grow so closely together in some places that they’re impossible to walk between.

In the mornings when the humidity is high, shafts of sunlight cut through the trees and pool on the rocky forest floor. Along the ridgeline, higher up near the peak of the mountain, the view opens and you can look down on the distinctive dark-green color of the spruce-fir forest.

But hundreds of dead trees spot the high slopes. They look like toothpicks, sharp and thin, and when the clouds come down across the mountain, there is something spooky about them.

These trees are the skeletons of Fraser firs, a species native only to the Southern Appalachians and a relic from the last Ice Age.

As conifer forests disappeared from the South when the glaciers retreated and the climate warmed, some trees found refuge on cool, high peaks. Fraser fir and red spruce, the two dominant tree species on these high mountains, form the base of a complex ecosystem full of plants and animals found nowhere else on earth.

Learn what happened, and what is happening…


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