North Carolina’s Mountain Treasures
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Alarka Laurel

Alarka Laurel

Approximate size: 2,485 acres

Old growth acreage: 68 acres

Location: Macon and Swain Counties, NC

USGS Topographic Maps: Alarka, Greens Creek

Alarka Laurel is an unusual high-elevation, flat-bottomed, “hanging” valley located in the Cowee Mountain range. Wild strawberries and grasses line the main road that leads to the top of Alarka Laurel and the Walton Interpretive Trailhead. It includes an open area that is ideal for camping. Native brook trout populate the area’s streams.

The Walton Smith Interpretive Trail leads the traveler deep into the forest. There are definite changes in the surroundings as one travels along the trail. Laurel and rhododendron thickets cover the initial stretch, then open into hardwood patches with oak and tulip poplar. Soon the path side turns to ferns and moss-covered logs. Fragments of white quartz rock occasionally litter the ground along the path. Many wildflowers also cluster along the way in patches that are mostly labeled. There are trillium patches near the beginning of the trail and fire pink in the last half.

Alarka Creek. Photo by Ralph Preston

About halfway along the trail large trees that look like hemlocks begin to appear. On closer inspection the large “hemlocks” are actually red spruce. Sadly, the same insect that has devastated pine has been infesting the red spruce as well. The southern pine beetle has caused considerable damage to this old-growth red-spruce, but young red spruce are growing to replace their elders. Despite the damage done by the southern pine beetle, the spruce bog at Alarka is considered biologically unique and irreplaceable.

A boardwalk leads the traveler into the red spruce bog. With the loss of some of the red spruce the bog has become overgrown with smaller plant species like laurel and rhododendron. The ground level of the bog is not visible from the boardwalk. The main road intersects the end of Walton’s Trail and leads directly back to the trailhead.

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