The Green Swamp Ecological Preserve offers a trek through some of the best examples of longleaf pine savannas in the United States. A longleaf pine savanna is a savanna (i.e. grassland) dominated by pine trees, which are primarily longleaf pine, pond pine, and loblolly pine.
The Nature Conservancy manages the preserve of over 16,000 acres, of which, nearly 13,000 acres is pocosin. Algonquian for “swamp on a hill”, Pocosin is dense, evergreen shrub thicket largely consisting of gallberry, titi, and sweetbay that is practically impenetrable.
The pond to the left of the trail head is quiet with a few yellowbelly slider turtles basking in the sunshine. At the beginning of the walk, the excitement of the children is contagious – what’s better than exploring? Hunting for animal-eating plants, maybe?
A rather fairyland of a forest, the Green Swamp touts a wonderful diversity of plants including at least fourteen different species of carnivorous plants. In addition, the swamp is home to many rare animal species, such as, Bachman’s sparrow, Henslow’s sparrow, Black-throated Green warbler, Swainson’s warbler, Red-cockaded woodpecker, fox squirrel, and American alligator.
However, there are plenty of not-so-rare species that reside in the Green Swamp like, cottontail rabbit, opossum, raccoon, white-tailed deer, fox, and black bear. However, an encounter with one of these residents is unlikely as they shy away from human noise and activity.
It is the extraordinary habitat itself that is the draw. Contradictory in nature, the life of the swamp is revitalized by fire. Frequent, low intensity surface fires are normal for pine savannas. The fires maintain a high forest floor diversity, return nutrients to the soil, and reduce disease and insect populations.
Further, the plants of the swamp exhibit adaptations for evolving in an ecosystem prone to fire. For example, wiregrass only flowers and seeds after a fire; pond pine cones release seeds after exposure to fire; longleaf pine require bare ground to germinate; and many of the plants have root systems that are protected from even the hottest fires.A sign of the Nature Conservancy’s accommodation to this requirement is the darkened bark of the tree trunks licked by flames. The open canopy of the tall, slender pines provides ample sun for the thick carpet of wiregrass, which is the “Central Island” area of the trail.
Following the trail into the “Shoestring Savanna” necessitates traversing a wooden pathway through a patch of pocosin. Dappled light and narrow quarters add to the isolated and mysterious ambiance of the swamp.
This area is less than one-half of a mile in and offers an excellent array of carnivorous plants. Some are easy to spot, while others are not. Tip: look for flowers blooming among the wiregrass.
Many choose to end their excursion here, but there are two more such areas further along the trail, referred to as “Little Island” and “Beanpatch Savanna”. Also, the areas further in tend to be wetter. The trees are flagged with blue paint along the trail, which extends about two miles into the preserve in total. Having found what we were looking for on the way in allowed us to notice things we missed on the way out, like the bustling of a bevy of butterflies. An easy walk, the Green Swamp is perfect for a weekend of rejuvenation for the body and soul, as well as, for inspiring children with awe. It is a symphony of sights, sounds, and smells where the imagination can take over.
How to get there
Open to the public, the Preserve is owned by The Nature Conservancy. Maps are not on-site, but the footpath is easy to follow and clearly marked. The nature trail begins from the parking area near the “Borrow Pit” pond area.Leaving Shallotte from Highway 17 and heading north toward Wilmington, turn left onto Highway 211N at the traffic light/intersection in Supply. (The road between the Kangaroo gas station and Hardee’s is Hwy 211). The parking area for the Green Swamp Ecological Preserve is 5.3 miles past the intersection on the right side of Hwy 211N.
What to take
The trail can be up to a four mile hike depending upon how far you go in. The path in is the same path out, no loops, you just turn around at any point. Good walking shoes, bug spray, and water make it pleasant, while a hat, sunglasses, and camera augment the exploration.