coverHidden among the expanse of forestland in Western North Carolina are little-known pockets of trees that are several centuries old. Either overlooked by loggers or too difficult to access, the old growth stands act as windows into the past and markers of Appalachian history.

Since the end of the Civil War until the 1930s, most forests in the eastern United States were clear-cut. However, some tracts were able to escape that era of industrialized logging and continue to grow.

Josh Kelly looked up from his topo map, took a step back and eyed the steep bank in front of him, scanning the line of the mountain until it disappeared out of sight. Somewhere through the tangle of rhododendrons, over a rock outcrop, and beyond that densely forested knoll was a really old tree, and Kelly was going to find it.

For three years, Josh Kelly has been stalking forests in the Southern Appalachians in search of unmapped old-growth forests and very old trees.

“It is like a treasure hunt everyday when I go out and look for these places,” Kelly said.

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