Any fairy tale worth telling begins with Once upon a time. So. Once upon a time in the 1930s, the “Penny Pines” project was launched: For a penny per tree,
Any fairy tale worth telling begins with Once upon a time.
So. Once upon a time in the 1930s, the “Penny Pines” project was launched: For a penny per tree, the Civilian Conservation Corps planted saplings in areas ravaged by logging. The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) aren’t just about historical preservation, but ecological conservation as well, and in honor of their upcoming 50th anniversary Golden Jubilee celebration in 1940, North Carolina’s DAR chapters funded the planting of 50,000 red spruce trees on some 50 acres in Pisgah National Forest.
On May 15, 1940, the dedication of the Jubilee Memorial Forest took place out on a curving road between Waynesville and, well, somewhere near the Blue Ridge Parkway, which was under construction at the time. The dedication happened; there’s a photograph of the occasion, depicting a commemorative plaque of bronze or wood — no one is quite sure which. And then came Pearl Harbor, and World War II, and bronze went toward the war effort, and 50,000 red spruce trees fell into an enchanted sleep. Patiently biding their time. Silently minding their business. Forgotten.
Still, does a tree falling in a forest make a sound if no one is around to hear? It does. Does a tree planted in a forest keep growing if no one is around to notice? It does.
Time passed. Decades came and went, along with fads, wars, people, presidents.
Sometime around 2009 or 2010, DAR members were charged with researching conservation projects accomplished in the organization’s 100-plus years. Projects like North Carolina’s Jubilee Forest. What ever happened to that? But— are you kidding? Locating 50,000 trees in a national forest of 500,000 acres? Cricket Crigler of the Hendersonville chapter tried. Luckily, a hand-drawn map, dating from the ’40s and unearthed by a retired ranger, provided a scant clue: The Devil’s Courthouse Mountain area looked promising. Unluckily, Crigler and her husband found no stand of spruce. The spell remained unbroken; the forest stayed lost.
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Five or six years passed, until, during lunch one day, the DAR state regent leaned over to Brevard resident and member Molly W. Tartt. “I have a project for you,” she told Tartt, “and it’s very simple. We want to locate a stand of trees planted near Devil’s Courthouse more than 70 years ago.” Tartt, 73 at the time, gamely took her husband to Devil’s Courthouse, to “just look over your right shoulder and you’ll see it,” as she’d been directed. Very simple, like spinning straw into gold. But “all we saw were trees,” Tartt says. “Millions of them. Everywhere.”
Like any plucky heroine, though, Tartt was undaunted: “I was determined,” she says. She undertook both historical and on-foot research. Word got out. At various times, hikers and neighbors, tree huggers and forestry experts joined the hunt.
Finally, one day, “I was in the right place at the right time,” she says. “People just fell into my lap. We formed two groups. Some shinnied down the mountain; some crossed the parkway bridge.” When a red spruce forest was finally discovered, with recognizable, intentional six-and-a-half-foot spacing, specialists collected trunk circumference data and increment borings of the trees to determine age. And so it was confirmed: The DAR Jubilee Memorial Forest had been finally, definitively, found.
And what a forest it had become. Tartt, now 80, describes it with the awe of revealing a treasure chest’s priceless contents. “The spruce are 80 to 100 feet tall, so close together that they form a canopy overhead,” she says. “Underneath, it’s a carpet of rose-colored needles, soft and cushiony. A stream runs through it, with some wildflowers, and that’s all that will grow. The trunks are barren until you get to the canopy, where they flare.”
On October 14, 2016, after count-less hours and a yearslong search, 81 national officers of the DAR from across the United States, never mind another 100 special guests from the National Park and U.S. Forest services, gathered to unveil — at last! For real! — a roadside plaque honoring the rediscovery of the Jubilee Memorial Forest. Tartt herself oversaw and coordinated the event, including obtaining special permission for buses of attendees to travel on the Blue Ridge Parkway, normally never allowed. “I still get chills when I see the plaque,” Tartt says. “The forest was never lost. It was planted and grew on its own and was just forgotten all these years. It’s like a fairy tale, with a great beginning, a fantastic middle, and a happy ending.”
Indeed. And don’t fairy tales, after all, so often take place in hidden spots, secret places, where the temperature drops, and stillness falls, and a hush descends, and daylight dims? This one does, too, right there opposite the Devil’s Courthouse Overlook at Milepost 422.4, on the north side. Red spruce trees can live 400 years, so you’ve got plenty of time to find them. But don’t forget your bread crumbs.
The Jubilee Memorial Forest is most visible from the path up to Devil’s Courthouse, located at Milepost 422.4 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The forest is located on the opposite side of the parkway from Devil’s Courthouse. Its borders clearly stand out from the deciduous trees surrounding it.According to Dr. James Lewis, staff historian at the Forest History Society, the Jubilee Forest “can be accessed on foot by following the trail from the Devil’s Courthouse parking lot, turning left at the end of the asphalt walkway onto the dirt trail, and going back over the Blue Ridge Parkway toward the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and turning left at that junction.” Walk a few minutes, and you’ll soon encounter row after row of red spruce trees.