A Winter Walk in Ev-Henwood Nature Preserve
by Sue Cag
No one else was visiting today. Except for distant traffic, it was quiet and the longer I paused and listened, the more natural sounds I heard. A pileated woodpecker. A scampering squirrel. A gentle flick of a butterfly’s wings as he playfully danced in a swamp chestnut oak or moved from flower to flower among the many azaleas. A loblolly pine cone falling to the ground with a distinct “thunk.” I could also smell a sweet burnt scent, perhaps lingering from the history of distilling pine tar in the area.
I started my walk along the Tulip Tree Trail. As the name suggests, there are several large tulip trees along this trail, cylindrical and tall with wide bases covered in emerald moss. Many of the trees are labeled for easy identification. There are also extended learning trails here with numerous information stations.
The Tulip Tree Trail led me to the Laurel Oak Trail and after a little side trip to see and read about an historic tar kiln, I walked beneath a tunnel of small laurel oaks until I arrived at a swamp of bald cypress. The trail continued among a number of venerable trees including holly, red maple, and black gum trees, all of generous size compared to most in the Wilmington area. This forest has more diversity and mature trees than many others I’ve visited in our area. It’s wilder here, and I can feel it.
After admiring a luxurious bed of oak toe lichen, I passed a small field of newly planted longleaf pine trees. Longleaf pines were nearly wiped out and this is one of many attempts to bring them back.
I continued through flowering azaleas onto the Beechnut Trail. Numerous beech trees with their easily identifiable bark line this trail along historic Town Creek. I found a hawk’s feather and tiny turtle shell and noticed magnificent magnolia trees here, but what delighted me the most were the old bald cypress trees in the creek. I spotted two huge old ones before I came to “Gus,” a 1,000 year old giant over 20 feet around. I didn’t know I could find any of these ancient trees so close by and easily accessible. I’ve seen the giant ancient cypress trees in the Three Sisters Swamp while kayaking the nearby Black River. I’ve seen them in Congaree National Park in South Carolina. We also have beautiful but modest cypress trees at Greenfield Lake and other local areas, but I was especially surprised to find these few particularly old and particularly large bald cypress still standing here. I’m a big tree/ancient tree junkie and even I was impressed.
After a while at the creek, I headed back the way I came until veering onto the Dogwood Trail. Since this was a winter walk, I didn’t get to see the dogwoods in bloom, but I certainly won’t miss it when I return in the spring, and many, many more times after that.
Originally Native American land, Ev-Henwood was named after Mr Troy Henry, who donated the land to UNCW in 1991, and his ancestor John Bassett-Evans, who acquired the property in the 1790s. It’s located at 6150 Rock Creek Rd, Leland, NC. It’s open to the public during daylight hours, seven days a week. No dogs. Learn more about the preserve by visiting:
If you punch the address into Google Maps, it will take you to the correct location. Pull in by the sign (pictured above) and pull straight down the dirt road. The big gate with the “No Dogs” sign has always been closed when I’ve visited, but there are places to park around the circle near it and the Tulip Tree trailhead starts there as well. There’s a downloadable guide to the learning trails available online (link above). A paper trail map may (or may not) also be available near the buildings down the gated road. I’m not sure if there are usable bathroom facilities. Unfortunately you may hear gunshots from hunting and shooting on adjacent land, but you may also hear owls!