25 acres in Johnston County
Location: 8954 Flower Hill Road, Middlesex, NC 27557
GPS Coordinates: 35.7272,-78.2080
About Flower Hill Nature Preserve
“Flower Hill is a very special place. It is truly amazing that the Catawbas and Galax are growing here so far from their natural habitat!” -Jack Blackmer, volunteer and Hiking Challenge participant
Don’t be deceived by the flat farmland along NC 231 as you make your way across Johnston County toward 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 (Rhododendron catawbiense), 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 a 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, interest in Flower Hill mysteriously dwindled.
In 1988, a grassroots effort arose to revive Flower Hill. A year later, TLC mounted a campaign to raise nearly $45,000 to purchase 10 acres along and atop Moccasin Creek. The land was successfully acquired in 1989 and Flower Hill Nature Preserve opened to the public in 1993.
Much as it did 70 years ago, Flower Hill Nature Preserve offers a 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, but be aware the trail soon exits TLC land onto private property.
With just a half mile of trail, don’t come to Flower Hill Nature Preserve expecting an intensive aerobic workout (though be advised 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.
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