The Green Swamp Nature Preserve
If you’ve ever traveled north on Highway 211 to I-74, you no doubt have encountered and endured the long miles of forest and, often, an electronic dead zone. Many are annoyed by this. However, the area you are traveling through – known as the Green Swamp – actually contains one of the most biodiverse environments in our state.
According to the Nature Conservancy, the Swamp contains some of the nation’s finest examples of longleaf pine savannas, supporting many orchids and insectivorous plants. There are 14 different species of the latter, including Venus flytrap, sundew, butterworts, bladderworts and pitcher plants.
The 16,000-acre Swamp was donated to the Nature Conservancy in the late 70s and early 80s by Federal Paper Board, who operated the Riegelwood paper mill at the time and owned thousands of acres of timberland. The Nature Conservancy manages the Swamp through practices like controlled burning and restoring pine savannas.
The Conservancy describes why controlled burning is beneficial to the area. “Many of the plants in the Green Swamp benefit from periodic burning; pond pine’s cones burst and release seeds after being exposed to very high temperatures, and wiregrass flowers vigorously after a fire. Longleaf pine seeds need bare ground to germinate and plenty of sunlight to grow, typical traits of plants that evolved in a landscape with frequent fires. The grasses and sedges of the Green Swamp have roots that are protected from the hottest fires, as do the orchids and insectivorous plants. Fire knocks back shrubby vegetation so light can reach the forest floor, allowing these understory plant species to persist.”
That shrubby vegetation creates a dense wetland bog, called a pocosin. It is comprised of organic matter, or muck, that has accumulated over thousands of years, leaving the soil nutrient deficient. Though they look unappealing from the road as we drive by, these bogs provide important benefits to the ecosystem there, including wildlife habitats for rare species like the American alligator, Henslow’s sparrow, Bachman’s sparrow, and Hessel’s hairstreak butterfly.
If you want to see it for yourself, the Swamp is open to visitors year-round, from sun up to sun down. The flytraps bloom in May/June, but it can be a bit buggy then. Visitors to the Green Swamp can take a primitive trail to the open savannas. It’s about a mile and a half, flat but slippery at times. Following are the Conservancy’s guidelines for your visit.
• Always remain on the trail. The preserve’s plants and animals are fragile, and it’s easy to get lost wandering away from the markers.
• Visitors should wear closed-toed shoes; waterproof shoes are favorable.
• The swamp can be buggy late May through the first frost; wearing layers and bringing insect repellent is advised.
• Dogs are permitted on the trail but must be leashed.
• Camping is not allowed.
• Overnight parking at the trailhead is not allowed.
• Part of the Green Swamp is open to hunting through the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s Game Land program. See their website for hunting schedules.
Directions to the Green Swamp trailhead:
From Lelandfollow US 17 south to Supply, NC. From Southport/ Oak Island, follow HWY 211 north. From the intersection of HWY 211 and US 17 (there is a Hardees’ and Kangaroo gas station at this intersection) follow HWY 211 north for 5 miles. The parking area for the trailhead will be on the right; there is a small parking area sign just before the turn off. A kiosk at the trailhead gives you more information about the preserve. For more information on the Conservancy, visit https://www.nature.org/en-us/.