Welcome to the forest of talking trees

Mar. 20, 2014 @ 06:00 AM

At Tuttle Educational State Forest, the trees will strike up a conversation with you.

"Hi, I'm Carolina hemlock," says a North Carolina native evergreen at the press of a button. "Normally, I can be found growing from dry rocky slopes and cliffs to mixed forests, such as the one you are in now. When given lots of room to grow, I make a beautiful tree with a cone-shaped crown and drooping branches."

Other trees like the white pine, yellow poplar and black gum answer questions listed on a plaque before them, telling their own stories, along the half-mile trail.

Tuttle Educational State Forest, located in southwest Caldwell County, is home to many hands-on learning activities and programs, including several amphitheatres, the Forestry Center and more talking exhibits. Every pathway in the 300-acre forest strives to educate on soil, water, wildlife and forestry.

Supervisor Scott Leatherwood said the forest is not a state park but a place of conservation and learning. This means Leatherwood and his two rangers, Jimmy Halliburton and Justin Query, are allowed to perform burns, host an annual deer hunt and hold the Kids Fish for Fun Day in their pond.

“We’re outside, and we’re having fun,” Leatherwood said.

Teachers can schedule field trips by calling the ranger office, and Leatherwood will adjust their programs to fit the teacher’s curriculum. Popular programs include the Textural Trail, where young children are blindfolded and indentify objects from the forest through their other senses, and the Forestry Center exhibits. Another favorite is the water conservation activity, which allows the students to jump in the creek and discover aquatic wildlife.

Leatherwood said that most people think only science classes would schedule activities, but history classes drop by, too. The historic Old Lingle Schoolhouse, one of the first original schoolhouses in the county, sits in the forest, and a North Carolina historical timeline can be found in the Forestry Center.

“We see about 6,500 kids each year,” Leatherwood said.

However, Tuttle is more than an outside classroom, Leatherwood said. It also welcomes all visitors, including pets, who want to enjoy the outdoors.

The forest also offers walking trails with scenic views, providing places to relax and savor pleasant weather. Feed areas attract deer and wild turkey for aspiring wildlife photographers. Near the back of the property, a wooden gazebo sits on a large hill with a view of Grandfather Mountain in the distance. Leatherwood said the gazebo is often a location for weddings.