The Waighstill Avery Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) have played a role in conservation spanning over 100 years in Western North Carolina, from a pre-war forest once forgotten and now found, to nurturing the future of spruce-fir forests in our region today. Once carpeted with red spruce and fir, our high elevation mountain landscapes now bear warning of the decline of these endangered ecosystems. In partnership with numerous federal, regional and local organizations, the ladies of the DAR and Southern Highlands Reserve recently took action to restore these forests, one seedling at a time.
Over two days this spring, 28 volunteers from the Waighstill Avery DAR chapter traveled to Southern Highlands Reserve (SHR) to repot nearly 600 spruce seedlings and prepare new seeds for planting, cleaning the entire collection of red spruce cones in SHR’s nursery. Their dedication to red spruce restoration is a part of a much longer story of conservation spanning generations.
Last October, the Waighstill Avery Chapter lead a ceremony dedicating a long-forgotten red spruce forest originally planted by the DAR in the 1940’s. Conservation was a long-time pillar of the organization and 50,000 red spruce trees were planted near Devil’s Courthouse off the Blue Ridge Parkway by the NC DAR shortly before World War II began. With government resources focused on the war effort, the forest fell out of priority and out of memory. Despite the absence of maintenance on this young forest, it grew anyway; life found a way to survive on the rocky, shallow soil of the forest floor.
It was only by serendipity decades later that members of the NC DAR uncovered a sketch of the forest planting and the quest to find the forgotten forest began. Despite the lack of a or clear description of where this forgotten forest was planted, the DAR ladies were committed to finding the forest and nevertheless, they persisted. With the help of forest historians and the dedication of these ladies, the forest was found and marked with a special commemoration ceremony last October.
In yet another series of fortuitous events, SHR learned about the commemoration of the DAR’s red spruce forest as its staff were preparing to write a grant proposal to the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area (BRNHA) to support SHR’s red spruce restoration project. Upon learning about the DAR’s commitment to conservation and red spruce restoration, SHR invited the Waightsill Avery chapter to be an official partner in its grant application and commit volunteer hours in its Nursery Complex to help with propagation activities, like potting red spruce into larger pots and cleaning seeds to prepare them for planting. Without hesitation, the DAR chapter wholeheartedly agreed to help.
The DAR would be yet another partner added to a long list of partners dedicated to restoring the health and vitality of spruce-fir forests, the second most endangered ecosystem in the U.S. Southern Highlands Reserve is part of a multi-stakeholder effort united to help restore the endangered spruce-fir ecosystem to the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Recognizing the need to protect the habitat of the endangered Carolina Northern Flying Squirrel and many other species by planting red spruce back onto public lands, SHR and other agencies formed a partnership called the Southern Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative (SASRI) to help identify and prioritize areas for spruce to be planted. SHR is growing spruce from seed for these priority restoration areas.
In order to fulfill its role in SASRI and grow thousands of red spruce for these projects, SHR sought the help of not only the many hands in the greenhouse, but also the support of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area whose grant programs help to preserve the natural and cultural heritage of the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains. Thanks to the support of the DAR and numerous other partnerships, SHR was awarded a Preservation Grant from BRNHA to support its red spruce propagation activities. It was because of the unique partnerships SHR brought to the table, like the DAR, that the tapestry of conservation began to weave together a story of environmental conservation spanning many years.
Together, these 28 representatives of the DAR who gave freely of their time to something larger than themselves have now collectively built upon conservation efforts started by their predecessors in the DAR so many years ago when the forest first was planted. Like torchbearers being handed the flame of passion for conservation, the DAR’s commitment to our forests lead them to forge new alliances in the present, nurturing the momentum towards a more sustainable future. Their commitment to conservation will leave a lasting legacy in the form of needles, branches, and cones for future generations to enjoy.
The nearly 600 red spruce trees repotted by the DAR will be planted on public lands in Western North Carolina and will contribute to the long-term effort to restore red spruce to our high-elevation forests.
 A full-length article about the DAR’s “Forgotten Forest” can be found on SHR’s website: https://southernhighlandsreserve.org/women-woods-daughters-american-revolution-found-forgotten-forest/