Summer 2023 Newsletter

From Our Director

Dear Friends of HRI,

In the past, we thought of the summer as our slow season here at HRI. Previously, we emulated the adelgids and laid low for a few months after the hustle and bustle of the busy fall, winter, and spring seasons. However, this year, things have remained busy all year long. After the treatment season culminated in early May, we turned our attention to participating in working groups and workshops on lingering hemlocks, we attended and presented at the annual HWA Managers Meeting (held in Virginia this year) and the Southern Forest Insect Work Conference, we increased our partnership with the National Forests of North Carolina by agreeing to assist them with even more aspects of their hemlock treatment work, and we’ve been recruiting and hiring new team members to join us this fall–altering our physical office space to give our enlarged team more room to work.

We’ve got a lot of good things brewing for the year ahead, but before we switch our focus to the future, we’d like to share a little of what we were up to before the summer started. This issue of our newsletter features not only the results of HRI’s hard work this past year, but also some of our amazing partners and supporters, whose dedication to our shared mission of saving hemlocks is an ongoing source of inspiration and motivation to keep the HRI program going and growing. We hope you’ll take time to read about all of the impressive work and people that are contained in the stories below.

Margot Wallston

2022-2023 Season Accomplishments

Looking for Lari’s on top of Dobson Knob

The 2022-23 season was a full and successful one, including everything from treatment on state, federal, and private conserved lands to trainings for the public to volunteer days and educational hikes.

The fall started off with multiple treatment days on two of the districts of the Pisgah National Forest. In particular, we were able to work in a few beautiful Carolina hemlock stands, and, of those, one area literally stood out from the rest: Dobson Knob. In September, we led an educational hike to this beautiful, remote mountain north of Marion and just southwest of Linville Gorge. The hike doubled as a scouting trip for the treatment work that lay ahead of us, and in October and November our team returned to the site to treat several pockets of Carolina hemlocks–camping out under the stars (and rain clouds) in order to get an early start each day. Over seven days, our small team of eight staff (and some days fewer) treated nearly 1,500 Carolina hemlocks that make up what might be the largest known population of the species. Dobson Knob also earned the distinction of having the most challenging terrain we at HRI have yet encountered. Once we left the trail, we were met with an incredibly thick understory and rocky, uneven terrain leading to sheer cliffs and giant boulder piles, on top of and around which the hemlocks were perched.  

HRI volunteers help re-treat all the hemlocks in the Pisgah National Forest’s Davidson River Campground in February 2023

Later in the fall, our team also headed out to the far west of North Carolina to treat hemlocks on the Nantahala National Forest, where six of us treated more than 1,200 eastern hemlocks across six different hemlock conservation areas (HCAs) over a seven-day period. We are grateful to the three volunteers that drove far out of their way to help us on one of those treatment days. (Shout out to Greg Salinski and Jean and Tom Flick for their determination!) Being able to work in hemlock stands as far northeast as Stokes County and as far southwest as Cherokee and Clay Counties is not only a treat for those of us who like to explore our state’s public lands and forested landscapes, but it allows us to get a good sense of how hemlocks are fairing across their native range in the state. Luckily, many of these stands started receiving chemical protection from hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA) over a decade ago, so we are often greeted by healthy trees, full of lush, dark green foliage when we return to treat them.

Before the end of 2022, we also worked alongside NC Forest Service (NCFS) staff and members of the BRIDGE program to treat over 1,700 hemlocks at DuPont State Recreational Forest, many of which were receiving their first (Phase 1) treatment (see story below for more about how the BRIDGE program is helping hemlocks). We continue to find new areas on state land to expand our treatment efforts while also returning to properties that NCFS and HRI treated five or six years ago. Such areas receiving re-treatment in the fall included Green River and Sandy Mush Game Lands, South Mountains State Park, Chimney Rock State Park, and additional sites at DuPont SRF. Many of those hemlocks are showing encouraging signs of starting to recover from the damage of HWA.

In February, our whole team traveled to Hanging Rock State Park (HRSP) for a full week of programming. The week included new Phase 1 treatments and Phase 2 re-treatments on multiple HCAs and several observations of the positive impacts from previous treatments. We were able to engage staff from HRSP and nearby Pilot Mountain State Park as well as some hardy (and hearty) volunteers in our treatment efforts of the scenic Moore’s Wall Loop Trail. Additionally, our team surveyed for and found Laricobius beetles on infested hemlocks in the park. We also held a three-hour treatment demonstration attended by local landowners and staff from HRSP and Pilot Mountain SP and an educational hike through one of HRSP HCAs. We were also grateful to have the participation of several members of the Friends of Sauratown Mountains in our treatment and educational activities. The trip was a great opportunity to bring together, all in one place, the various aspects of HRI’s work to protect hemlocks in North Carolina. (To read more about the treatment work at HRSP and for a view into one of the park’s special hemlock stands, see this issue’s HCA highlight story.)

In addition to the treatment demonstration at Hanging Rock SP, HRI staff led three other demonstrations and one hands-on treatment workshop for landowners and professionals, partnering with such organizations as the NC Arboretum and the Transylvania Creation Care Fellowship. One program at the NC Arboretum was held specifically for tree care and other professionals and was attended by 23 people from a wide range of companies, organizations, and institutions wanting to learn more about how to protect hemlock trees. Attendees were able to earn NC Pesticide Credits and CEUs for ISA members. In the future, we hope to also include Continuing Forestry Education credits for our treatment training programs. We’ve received great feedback about each one of these events, so we promise to keep them coming in the years ahead.

Our private partnerships continued this season with several cost/work share projects on private conserved land. We partnered with Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, Blue Ridge Conservancy, Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust, Richland Trust, and Christmount Assembly retreat and conference center to put on work days with partner staff and volunteers. In total across our private partner projects this season over 1,200 trees were treated, and partner staff and volunteers contributed over 180 hours of work.

HRI Forestry Technicians prep for hemlock chemical treatments in March 2023

HRI and our partners remained busy on state lands throughout the spring, including Phase 2 re-treatments at Pisgah Game Land, Headwaters State Forest, and Holmes Educational State Forest, along with additional sites on some of the state forests, parks, and game lands where we worked in the fall. We also partnered with staff at Chimney Rock State Park to perform initial treatment of two previously untreated Carolina hemlock stands. Meanwhile, NCFS staff and BRIDGE crews carried out extensive treatments, including initial Phase 1 treatments at the recently established Broyhill State Forest, where crews protected almost 2,300 hemlocks across the fall and spring. They also did Phase 2 re-treatment of over 4,500 hemlocks at Tuttle Educational State Forest and Kings Creek Research Station.

The spring wrapped up with additional work on the Pisgah National Forest where we were able to finish treating over 2,900 hemlocks at the Davidson River Campground and the Cradle of Forestry HCAs. HRI was able to partner with staff from FIND Outdoors who operate the Cradle and provide educational programs there, the Pisgah River Rangers program, as well as students from the nearby Schenck Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center to help get all that awesome work done.

In the midst of all the great treatment work, when our team is out on-site we also monitor for the presence of Laricobius beetles and collect data on the health of the trees in the impact plots that we have installed on many of our HCAs. We’re happy to report that we continue to find Laricobius beetles within the majority of our HCAs, and the treated trees within our impact plots almost always appear to be doing quite well.

These are just some of the highlights from the past season. We thank everyone who played a part in making it such a success! We are gearing up for the 2023-24 season now, and we expect it will be another amazing one.

BRIDGE-ing a Way to save Hemlocks

By Brian Heath, N.C. Forest Service, Forest Health Branch

NCFS Forest Health Specialist Brian Heath (right) mixes insecticide for hemlock treatment with a BRIDGE crew member at DuPont State Forest

The N.C. Forest Service is dedicated to protecting the hemlock resources of our state. The N.C. Forest Service BRIDGE program is the most important factor when it comes to making this happen in the woods. BRIDGE is an acronym for building, rehabilitating, instructing, developing, growing, and employment. The BRIDGE program enlists minimal custody inmates (referred to as crewmen) to help teach them work skills while providing tangible benefits for our state. With oversight from N.C. Forest Service project leaders, these crewmen participate in fire control, forest management, and numerous other projects throughout western North Carolina. In the more than 30-year history of the program, more than 4,500 inmates have participated in the program, contributing more than 3 million hours of labor to more than 382 state, federal, local government agencies, schools, civic and non-profit organizations. These work hours helped save these entities millions of dollars.

BRIDGE crew members sometimes become tree huggers

As part of the Hemlock Restoration Initiative (HRI), the goal of the N.C. Forest Service was to chemically treat as many hemlocks as possible to preserve this resource. Incorporating the BRIDGE program to make this happen made perfect sense. These project leaders and crewmen quickly became our most experienced treatment crews for our agency. Working together we developed a standardized treatment process using soil drenching techniques. This method requires physical endurance, and the BRIDGE crews don’t shy away from hard work. They willingly fight their way through brush and difficult terrain while carrying the necessary supplies to conduct chemical treatments for our hemlock population. The difficulty of this type of field work cannot be emphasized enough. Our treatment crews understand the importance of this program and they take pride in the hard work that they do.

BRIDGE crew members worked with HRI to treat hemlocks at Hanging Rock State Park in 2017

Since 2018, BRIDGE has been responsible for chemically treating more than 60,000 hemlocks! This work has occurred on state lands belonging to multiple agencies. These agencies include properties owned by the N.C. Forest Service, N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services Research Stations Division, and others. Without the hard work from the BRIDGE program, we would not have been able to protect some of the best hemlock resource areas throughout the state.

NCFS, BRIDGE, HRI, and volunteers came together to plant hemlock seedlings at the Morganton Forestry Center in December 2022

HCA Highlight: Hanging Rock State Park–Lower Cascades Falls

Lower Cascades Falls in Hanging Rock State Park

This Hemlock Conservation Area (HCA) Highlight features diverse flora, dramatic rock walls, a gorgeous waterfall, and a mix of eastern and Carolina hemlocks. Located along one of the shortest and most popular trails in Hanging Rock State Park (HRSP), this HCA holds significant recreational and ecological value. 

Hemlocks above the falls

The Lower Cascades Falls can only be accessed from the Lower Cascades parking lot. The trail begins as a dirt, gravel, and rock path, then transitions into wooden and stone steps as it descends into the rocky gorge. After a short 0.4 miles and 170 steps, hikers will arrive at Lower Cascades Falls. Here, Cascade Creek rushes through a narrow channel and then spills over a 35-foot rock wall into a shallow pool. There are plenty of large, flat rocks to perch on and enjoy the rush of the waterfall. It is a perfect place to cool off after spending a day exploring HRSP’s 20 miles of trails.

Trail leading to the falls

This spring, our forestry crew returned to Lower Cascades for its third round of treatment and treated 181 hemlocks. This area had been partially treated in 2011, then fully treated in 2017 by HRI, park staff, and the NCFS BRIDGE crew. So, in 2023, the crew encountered many healthy looking trees with dense foliage. Re-treating this area will ensure the trees stay in good condition for another 5-10 years.

The Lower Cascades Falls is one of several hemlock conservation areas at Hanging Rock State Park. Others include stands surrounding Moore’s Wall Loop Trail, Indian Creek Trail, Moore’s Springs Road, and Mill Creek. We partnered with NC State Parks, which manages HRSP, to protect these areas from HWA. With the help of state park staff and community volunteers, in total we treated more than 1,100 of HRSP’s hemlocks in 2023. These efforts will help maintain the shady groves, cool streams, majestic bluffs, and diverse plant and animal life of this special place.

Hemlock Diversity

Two species of hemlocks can be found in North Carolina– eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and Carolina hemlock (Tsuga caroliniana). These two species of hemlocks are very different in their genetics, range, typical habitat, and response to HWA. T. caroliniana is genetically closer to Asian hemlocks than to its geographic neighbor, T. canadensis.

Eastern hemlock populations stretch up and down eastern North America, while Carolina hemlock is endemic to a relatively small area in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. T. caroliniana is typically found in a dry, rocky, sunny habitat, whereas T. canadensis is an iconic part of cool, moist Appalachian riparian zones. While HWA attacks and kills both of these hemlock species, Carolina hemlocks tend to maintain their vitality a little longer before succumbing to HWA. This may be due mostly to their sunny, exposed habitat.

Hanging Rock State Park is an excellent place to see eastern and Carolina hemlocks in close proximity. The park is on the eastern edge of where the ranges of eastern and Carolina hemlocks overlap in North Carolina. Carolina hemlocks can be found in their typical dry, sunny, rocky habitat along the Moore’s Wall Loop Trail. Eastern hemlocks can be seen shading streams and valleys along Moore’s Spring Road and Indian Creek Trail. Since these two species have such different growing habitats, they are usually stratified by elevation and landform. However, both can be seen growing in very close proximity in our featured HCA–Lower Cascades Falls. Follow the steps down to this refreshing waterfall, and make sure to look for Carolina hemlocks decorating the tops of the rock walls and eastern hemlocks growing stream-side. 

The unique geology and ecology of Hanging Rock State Park left quite an impression on the HRI crew, but the love that the surrounding community has for this park left an even bigger impression. Several community members volunteered to help us treat hemlocks along the Moore’s Wall Loop Trail. Each expressed their appreciation for this park, and emphasized that it was an important place for them to connect with nature and enjoy their lives. Several hikers also stopped to talk with HRI staff and express thanks for the efforts to protect these trees. To our partners, volunteers, and the HRSP community at large–thank you for your support!

HRI staff, state park staff, and community volunteers ready to treat Moore’s Wall hemlocks

Learn more about visiting Hanging Rock State Park on the NC State Parks website.

Remembering Fred Hain

Dr. Fred Hain. Photo courtesy of the Forest Restoration Alliance

As a founder and the key driving force behind the Forest Restoration Alliance (FRA), Dr. Fred Hain was a champion for hemlocks. It is with great regret that we share the news of his untimely passing last month. Given that Dr. Hain was an ally to HRI since its inception and HRI has maintained a close relationship with FRA over the past nine years, we wanted to take this opportunity to recognize Dr. Hain in our own small way and remember him and some of his many contributions to forest health and hemlock restoration. 

Dr. Hain started his career as a faculty member in the NC State University (NCSU) Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology in 1974 and enjoyed a productive 37-year research and teaching career as a Forest Entomologist. During his career, he trained 34 graduate students in Forest Entomology, including current NCSU Forest Health faculty Drs. Kelly Oten and Robert Jetton. 

Hain made important research contributions on the biology and management of a number of important forest pests, including the southern pine beetle, spongy moth, balsam woolly adelgid, and hemlock woolly adelgid. He was considered one of the world’s leading authorities on the biology and management of balsam woolly adelgid impacts on Fraser fir in natural stands and Christmas tree plantations.

In 2007, Hain brought together a group of researchers across universities, the National Arboretum, and the USDA Forest Service to look for solutions to our continent’s drastically declining eastern and Carolina hemlock populations. They formed what was initially called the Alliance for Saving Threatened Forests–now known as the Forest Restoration Alliance–in order to share information, conduct research, and ultimately restore hemlocks and other native adelgid-affected trees, such as Frasier Fir, in the eastern United States.

In addition to his work as a founder and the director of the Forest Restoration Alliance, two important research contributions Dr. Hain made in the area of hemlock woolly adelgid are 1) our understanding of the role native and naturalized natural enemies in adelgid regulation and 2) various aspects of the plant-insect interactions of hemlocks and HWA and the role those interactions might play in developing adelgid-resistant hemlock varieties. 

Dr. Hain receiving the NC Governor’s Forest Conservationist of the Year Award in 2019. Photo courtesy of NCSU.

Dr. Hain was recognized for his work in many ways throughout his career. In 1995, he received the A. D. Hopkins Award sponsored by the Southern Forest Insect Work Conference. The award is presented to an individual with an outstanding record of service to Southern forest entomology. He was awarded the Order of the Longleaf Pine, one of the highest state honors a North Carolinian can receive, ​in 2011 at his retirement celebration. In 2018, Dr. Hain received the NC Governor’s Forest Conservationist of the Year Award. 

After acquiring these many impressive accolades, Hain did not sit back on his laurels to celebrate his accomplishments. While he officially retired from NCSU in 2011, he then dedicated his retirement to building the FRA and advocating for state and federal legislation about invasive species. He worked doggedly to raise awareness and support for additional research in the arenas of resistance and breeding, especially on Forestry Days in the NC Legislature, when he walked the legislative halls, committed to the goal of gaining support for a forest health initiative that would encompass all the many biotic threats our forests face. 

Young Dr. Hain in his early days at NCSU. Photo from University Archives Photograph Collection. College of Natural Resources (UA023.015), Special Collections Research Center at NC State University Libraries

He continued working right up until he became ill this past spring to advance the role of genetics as an important component of the fight to save our hemlocks. One of his final accomplishments was organizing a session on genetic approaches to managing forest health for the annual Southern Forest Insect Work Conference that, this year, was held in his home town of Raleigh. Unfortunately, the meeting took place less than two weeks after he passed, but the session carried on under the facilitation of his former graduate student, Dr. Robert Jetton.

With the passing of Dr. Hain, the hemlocks have lost a most devoted “Lorax” who always raised his voice in their defense. He will be missed not just for his passion and dedication to forests, but also for his personality. Below are some of the words his colleagues shared about him.

From Dana Nelson, researcher with the US Forest Service:
“Fred was a great guy. I only met him late in life, but I enjoyed him very much. After work, which at this stage for us would have been following a Forest Restoration Alliance meeting, when asking about dinner plans, he’d say, “Well you know me, I got to have my beer”. That always sounded good to me and that would be our first course. Never fail. In his own, unique way Fred Hain was a great visionary and an inspiring leader, and in my view, he picked a great cause—restoring forests, especially the eastern and Carolina hemlocks.”

Dr. Hain checking on research trees at the FRA greenhouse in Waynesville. Photo by Mary Talley.

From Rob Trickel, retired NC Forest Service Forest Health Branch Head:
“I used to ride with Fred to meetings in the mountains and we had a lot of time to converse. One of our ongoing debates was whether it would be easier to teach an entomologist what they needed to know about forestry or to teach a forester what they needed to know about entomology. We always agreed to disagree, but he always put a pitch in for me to hire his students.”

From Robert Jetton, NCSU colleague and former student of Dr. Hain’s:
“One of my fondest memories of Fred is the important role he played in building a sense of community within NC State University during his career. At the end of each week he organized what was called “Friday Afternoon Seminar,” but this was not a seminar in the traditional sense. It was a gathering that brought together faculty, graduate students, postdocs, and staff across several departments for a Friday happy hour at a bar near campus. Sure, we drank beer and talked a little science, but mostly this was a chance to unwind at the end of the week, get to know each other, and share our common interests and experiences outside of our university roles. It is only fitting that the celebration of his life that was recently held in Raleigh was called “Fred Hain’s Ultimate Friday Afternoon Seminar” where those in attendance shared good food and drink in honor of a life well-lived.”

From Ben Smith, FRA Researcher Scholar:
“I’d heard of Fred for years while I was in graduate school at NC State, and finally met him in 2010 after I heard he planned to start a program developing HWA resistance in hemlocks. His passion and love for hemlocks was contagious, and I am thankful I got to work in HWA resistance with him for the remainder of his life. Besides all the great memories I have from working with him in the field, the greenhouse, and at meetings, what stands out above all else was Fred’s dedication to making a difference, even when he had nothing to gain. I briefly worried when I found out he was going to retire less than a year after I started working with him, but he assured me that just meant he would have more time to dedicate to hemlock work, and he lived up to and far exceeded that promise. I’ll probably never again be able to see a beautiful wild hemlock without thinking of Fred and his commitment to leaving a legacy that would far outlast his life.”

Volunteer Spotlight: Dan Manning

The Hemlock Restoration Initiative could not do what we do without the help of our hard-working volunteers. Our “Volunteer Spotlight” highlights the contributions of one especially dedicated volunteer.

Dan Manning on very his first volunteer treatment day with HRI in 2019

Dan Manning first heard about HRI from his friend, another longtime HRI volunteer, Dave Jarjoura. The two of them were chatting one day, and Dave mentioned that he volunteers treating the hemlock trees in Sandy Mush Game Land. The game land isn’t far from Dan’s home near Alexander, NC where he and his wife, Janet, have lived for almost 30 years. Dan was intrigued, so he looked up HRI and soon came out on a volunteer treatment day with Dave in the spring of 2019. Since that first day treating hemlocks near Turkey Creek, a tributary of Sandy Mush Creek, Dan has spent many hours volunteering to treat hemlocks across Sandy Mush Game Land.

A retired soil scientist with the USDA Forest Service, Dan understands the importance of hemlocks both for terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Dan spent several decades with the Forest Service, starting in his early 30s with the agency and retiring in 2007. As part of an interdisciplinary group of specialists, he planned projects and gave input into soil characteristics and anything that could have soil disturbing activities. “The work was quite varied, but any time out in the field seemed to make more work back in the office,” he joked.

Alongside his career with the Forest Service, Dan also served in the US Air National Guard, where he started as an enlisted member. He rose through five ranks as an enlisted Airman and then was commissioned as an officer. He was what some call a “mustang,” a term for a commissioned officer promoted from enlisted ranks without having a completed college degree. Most of his commissioned career was spent with tactical control units as an air weapons controller/senior director, and eventually he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel before retiring from service in the late 1990s. 

Dan with HRI Forestry Tech Jadon (middle) and HRI Director Margot (right)

These days he likes spending time hunting in the woods, not only for game but also for mushrooms and wild berries. Dan enjoys hunting deer and turkey, mostly on his own six acres in rural Buncombe County or the properties of friends nearby, whether with a gun, crossbow, or even a black powder muzzleloader. As a member of the Asheville Mushroom Club for about 10 years, Dan has tromped around the forest looking for interesting fungi. For a few years, he organized the club’s “forays”–a role he has now handed off to his good friend Dave. He loves finding edible fungi like morels, chanterelles, chicken of the woods, and lobster mushrooms, but he enjoys seeing other interesting mushrooms too, like the beautiful but deadly amanitas that he spotted recently. 

Dan all geared up on a treatment day with former HRI AmeriCorps members Logan and Ben

His relatively newfound love of mushroom hunting has led Dan to reflect on his career as a soil manager with the Forest Service. Dan said, “It would have been nice to know then what I know now about mycology.” In the 1960s and ’70s, Dan earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the areas of agronomy and soil sciences from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, not far from his childhood home in eastern Knox County. His degrees entailed a solid grounding in the biological and physical sciences, but mycology wasn’t required back then. “I think that anyone who goes into soils should have at least a couple basic courses in mycology,” he said.

Dan showing his sense of humor by having a cold treat on an HRI hike in winter 2023

Dan enjoys volunteering to protect hemlocks and help the whole ecosystem where they play an important part. This ecological impact is one of that things that keeps bringing him back. He also likes meeting and working alongside the “younger folks” on the HRI team and having good conversations during treatment days.

Dan, always the jokester, added, “At nearly 84, I’m not sure if I’m your oldest volunteer, but I bet I’m one of the better-looking ones.” He’s also one of the most active and courageous. A natural storyteller, Dan recently took a stand up comedy class with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UNCA, only one of several classes he’s taken at OLLI over the years.

Dan encourages others to try volunteering with HRI. When asked what he would say to prospective volunteers, Dan said, “HRI is doing good work. You can count on getting a good workout, and you can be assured you’ll derive some satisfaction knowing that you’re helping keep hemlocks alive in the ecosystem.”

Conservation Connection Corner: Bill Buchler of Connestee Falls

Bill in 2021, ready for some treatment!

Bill Buchler loves hemlocks. We first met Bill in 2021 at a couple of work days HRI facilitated with the Connestee Falls community, where Bill and his wife Nancy have lived for seven and a half years. The work days were organized by fellow resident Lisa Smith to help the community jump start their hemlock conservation efforts as part of Connestee’s “Care for the Natural Environment” initiative. Bill and the rest of the Connestee Falls Trail Stewards group came out for the work days to get trained on how to perform hemlock treatments safely and effectively. Among the group, Bill stood out as being particularly enthusiastic and game for almost anything. When the volunteers were asked who would like to be trained to perform basal bark spray, Bill jumped at the opportunity. Following the work day, Lisa coined a name for the trained trail stewards; they called themselves the Connestee “Hemlock Friends.”

Bill performing basal bark spray treatment on a hemlock at Connestee Falls

Since those first couple work days with HRI, Bill and the rest of the Hemlock Friends have gone on to treat a couple thousand hemlocks along the network of Connestee’s 18 miles of trails and across other common areas in the community. Trail stewards are assigned a particular stretch of the trail system. Bill and Nancy are stewards of the Oakanoah Trail, where Bill has taken a special interest in the baby hemlock seedlings along the lower stretch of the creek. He secured permission to transplant seedlings to spots where they could be treated and have a better chance of becoming big, beautiful trees.

Bill’s enthusiasm for hemlocks hasn’t stopped with treating and planting trees. He and Nancy have volunteered at our work days helping at the Forest Restoration Alliance research facility in Waynesville. They have also been part of our yearly cone collection effort, helping out the NC Forest Service to secure enough hemlock seed for their seedling production. 

Bill and former Connestee Falls POA board member Mary Freudenberg showing off some hemlock cones

Bill has spoken about the campaign to protect Connestee’s hemlocks as “legacy work.” A phase he has become known for. Whether it’s treating a hundred-plus-year-old “grandmother” tree (some at Connestee measure over 3 feet in diameter), gathering hemlock seeds, or “rescuing”  baby hemlock seedlings from areas where they can’t be protected from HWA, Bill sees his efforts on behalf of the trees as a gift to the future. Lisa Smith, the main organizer of the Hemlock Friends, has reported that some of the hemlocks treated in 2021 are showing lots of new growth. Trees that had been declining for several years are now making a turn around because of the efforts of Lisa, Bill, and the rest of the Hemlock Friends.

HRI is grateful to the whole community of Connestee Falls and the POA’s Natural Resources Stewardship Committee, who have supported the efforts of the Hemlock Friends and continue on with the campaign to protect the Connestee’s hemlocks. Their hard work is already making a difference that will have lasting effects for decades to come.

Bill and the Connestee Falls Hemlock Friends with HRI staff in spring 2021. Photo by Janet Saucier

If you know someone who has gone above and beyond to protect the hemlocks in their community, please contact us at or call us at 828-252-8743, and we might feature them in a future newsletter.

The NC Forest Service Wants Your Hemlock Cones

In recent years the NC Forest Service Nursery and Tree Improvement Program has been growing hemlocks from seed in great numbers in order to establish protocols for future production of hemlock strains that can be used for large scale forest restoration. This requires that they collect thousands of cones each fall, and they can use your help! It is important that cones are picked at the right time and stored in a way so that they do not rot or drop their seeds before passing them on to the NC Forest Service. If you have hemlocks and would like to be involved, see our Cone Collection page for more information about when and how to collect and where to deliver your cones after they are collected.

Note: Carolina hemlock cones start ripening in August and eastern cones start a little while after that. Check out the ripening guide on the cone collection page for more information about exactly when to pick them.

Take a look at our upcoming events

Wednesday, Sept. 13: Educational walk at Corneille Bryan Native Plant Garden in Lake Junaluska

Saturday, Sept. 23: DuPont Forest Festival

Saturday, Oct. 7: Cradle of Forestry Forest Festival Day

Saturday, Oct. 21: Hemlock Hike at NC Arboretum

Saturday, Nov. 4: Hemlock Hike at the Cradle of Forestry

Check our Events page for additional events as they are added.

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