Cary nature preserve is serenity in suburbia

Posted June 25, 2010 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated June 26, 2010 10:25 p.m. EDT

— In Cary, there's a nature preserve that time forgot, where a tree species flourishes hundreds of miles from its normal habitat.

A handful of Eastern Hemlock trees are the stars at Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve, off Kildaire Farm Road.

"They're relics from the Ice Age," program specialist Mark John said. "Ten to 12 million years ago, there were hemlocks all over this part of the state."

But the climate changed, and Eastern Hemlock trees died out east of the mountains.

"They retreated and were out-competed by oaks, hickory and pines, except for that place right here," John said.

Growing conditions in this cranny of Cary, though, stayed perfect for the Eastern Hemlock. North-facing bluffs above a shallow stream helped create the only place east of North Carolina's mountains where the Eastern Hemlock grows.

"Those big ones, they're old. Our research says they're probably between 300 and 400 years old," John said.

Today, those trees are enjoyed by visitors such as Julie Arnold, whose grandchildren wanted to come to the nature preserve for two straight days.

"We saw a deer yesterday – really cool," Arnold said.

Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve covers more than 100 acres of dense forest, shoehorned into suburban Cary. Three miles of trails wind around the woods and a nature center. Admission is free.

"Nature is all around," John said. "The serenity and the quietness and being able to hear the birds sing and crickets chirp and the squirrels run through the leaves – it's just peaceful."