Flower Hill Nature Preserve
Physical address: 8954 Flower Hill Rd., Middlesex, NC 27557
Link to Google Maps: http://goo.gl/maps/xahl7
From Raleigh, follow US 64 East to US 264 East. Continue for about 2miles and exit on NC 39.Turn right and follow NC 39 south for 6 miles to NC 231.Turn left and follow NC 231 east about 3 miles to Flower Hill Road. Turn right on to Flower Hill Road and the parking lot will be on your left about 0.25 miles down the road.
Don’t be deceived by the flat farmland along NC 231 as you make your way across Johnston County toward the Flower Hill Nature Preserve. A surprise — a “freak of nature” — awaits down the road.
Curiously, it was that phrase uttered by noted North Carolina naturalist B.W. Wells on a visit in the 1930s that brought this geographic anomaly on the Johnston/Nash county line to national attention. Wells had been invited to tour the property and immediately identified it as a disjunct mountain community, a microenvironment that survived the retreat of the last ice age 10,000 years ago to leave a cool, sheltering environment friendly to Catawba rhododendron, galax and other flora more commonly found 200 miles west in the southern Appalachians. An account of Wells’ visit in the Smithfield Herald picked up the “freak of nature” observation, which subsequently helped earn Flower Hill mention in the Mobile Tour Guide. Suddenly, Flower Hill was the place to be: On May 4, 1937, more than 4,760 visitors (the capacity of the visitor registration book) descended on Flower Hill from throughout the state and as far away as New England. The masses returned the following spring to catch the rhododendron bloom, but after that, interested in Flower Hill mysteriously dwindled.
In 1988, a grass-roots effort arose to revive Flower Hill. A year later the Triangle Land Conservancy mounted a campaign to raise nearly $45,000 to purchase 10 acres along and atop Moccasin Creek; Flower Hill opened to the public in 1993. As part of TLC’s mission to preserve Flower Hill, both ecologically and culturally, a Rhododendron Ramble is held annually the weekend before Mother’s Day
Much as it did 70 years ago, Flower Hill offers quick escape to the high country. A short, half mile trail briefly passes across the bluff’s more Piedmont-like plateau before tiptoeing atop a cliff face cloistered with rhododendron. It’s an impressive collection, as dense as you’ll find in western North Carolina’s Pisgah or Nantahala national forests. Take the trail down to Moccasin Creek for an impressive bottom-up perspective.
With just a half mile of trail (a mile out-and-back), don’t come to Flower Hill expecting an aerobic workout (though be advised that the east end of the trail is challenging). Rather, come expecting to marvel at a geographic anomaly that once thrust this tiny slice of Johnston County into national prominence.
"I just really love the outdoors. For me, it’s the belief in something bigger than myself and also having the ability to leave a legacy, because this is all we’ve got."