02 Oct 2022

A walk through Weymouth Woods

By Iris Llewellyn Angle  »  Photos by John Patota

Last New Year's Day I wanted to do something I had never done before; hike a trail I didn’t even know where it was located. A park ranger would lead us at the Paint Hill tract, a part of the Weymouth Woods Preserve. It’s located at the end of a residential street off E. Indiana Ave. Erin Conway, the park ranger shared her knowledge of various species of plants and vegetation as she traipsed us through the hilly 1.2-mile path. She led us to a rare plant that only grows in this tract. The pixie-moss, which is not a moss, blooms from late January to early March. In February, the tiny white flowers can easily be seen as it grows in clumps.

Recently I enjoyed another hike with Ranger Sam Gorewich, who led 10 of us on the one-mile Pine Barrens Trail to spot the red-cockaded woodpecker, an endangered species since 1970. They make their homes in the longleaf and other pines by digging cavities into the heartwood of mature living pines. She explained that they live in groups of two to six birds, a breeding pair and family members who help find food, dig new cavities, and defend their cluster of trees. Unfortunately, we did not spot any that day, but she pointed out the trees and described the digs where they live.

After these educational hikes I wondered what other duties kept N.C. State Park rangers busy. To answer that question I interviewed Zach Lunn, the newest ranger at the Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve. This particular park covers almost a thousand acres consisting of three tracts: Weymouth Woods Preserve, the Boyd tract, and Paint Hill. This natural area, established in 1963 is different than most N.C. state parks as it serves to preserve and protect the natural and unique feature of the Sandhills.

Zach looks official in his ranger hat and uniform which includes a firearm. His wide mustache reminds me of the wild west local sheriff which law enforcement is one of his duties. He is soft spoken, but I can tell he commands attention when needed.

He shared how he decided to become a ranger. After six years in the Army at Ft. Bragg as a medic he entered UNC Pembroke. While there he interned with a professor who studied box turtles. Zach became interested in zoology but preferred to work in nature and not in a lab.

He described the duties that he, the superintendent and one other ranger performs daily. They also have two assistant park rangers. In addition to the interpretive and educational hikes that I took, they also offer outreach programs to schools and daycares. They maintain the eight marked trails at the Weymouth Woods tract and several in the other two tracts. They track invasive and endangered species such as the red-cockaded woodpecker and
band hummingbirds.

One of their most important duties is to monitor prescribed burns. These are controlled fires that simulate natural fires. They are periodically set to maintain the longleaf community and ecosystem. A three-year rotation keeps the areas open where seedlings can grow and return nutrients to the soil to help the longleaf pines grow. The oldest longleaf pine grows in the Boyd Tract which celebrated its 474th birthday!

Today we are fortunate to celebrate that birthday and enjoy hiking the trails of the longleaf pines because of Helen Boyd. In the early 1900’s, James Boyd, a railroad magnet purchased acreage establishing an estate he named Weymouth because it reminded him of Weymouth, England. Before that time, the longleaf pines were cut down to build ships. Then they were used to produce turpentine in which this area supplied third of the worlds turpentine and resin. It also destroyed the trees.

Helen, James’s daughter saw the destruction of the pines and asked her father to save her loving pines. Instead of keeping this historical and unique beauty for he and his family, he opened it to towns folk and tourists to enjoy the horse and walking paths. Weymouth Woods is a treasure to explore in our community, so this fall please plan your own walk through these wondrous woods. The red-cockaded woodpecker, pine barrens tree frogs, bog spicebush, blue grosbeak, great crested flycatcher, the non-venomous snakes, the plethora of plants and the box turtle await you.

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