Last month, I took the girls to Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve for our first hiking trip of the year. The 900-acre preserve is one of the few remaining longleaf pine savannas and home to the oldest known longleaf pine in North Carolina. With over 4 miles of hiking trails, it is a great place to experience the endangered longleaf pine forest ecosystem.
The History of Weymouth Woods
Early settlers called this Moore County area the “pine barrens” because of its extensive longleaf pine savannas. The sandy soil made agriculture impossible, so the cultivation of timber and pine resin rose up in its place to fuel the local economy.
By 1850, NC produced 1/3 of the world’s supply of naval stores. Large-scale logging began twenty years later when railroads arrived in the Sandhills. Even today, V-shaped cuts and boxed scars in tree trunks bear witness to the devastation caused by the turpentine industry.
As a result of timber operations, the virgin growth of longleaf pines virtually disappeared from the Sandhills by 1900. Helen Boyd Dull witnessed this destruction of the forests and asked her father to step in and save the land.
Since the Pennsylvanian coal and railroad magnate James Boyd was in the market for a winter estate, he gave in to his daughter’s request – purchasing 765 acres and the Boyd house. Boyd named his retreat Weymouth after Weymouth, England. By 1916, Weymouth was the largest privately owned winter estate at over 1500 acres.
To preserve the forest, Boyd hired landscape architect Alfred Yeomans. The restoration took 24 years and included the creation of bridle paths and carriage lanes. Instead of maintaining the land for private use, he opened a portion of the property to local residents as a natural park.
Following Boyd’s death, part of the property passed to his grandson and namesake, James. James retreated to the Weymouth estate as a permanent resident after serving in WWI. A famous poet and novelist of his time, he entertained literary giants like Thomas Wolfe and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
His wife, Katharine, inherited the property after James died in 1944. She donated 403 acres to the state following the death of her son. Katharine wanted to preserve the woods as they were when her children were little. Her donation, Weymouth Woods, became the first nature preserve in the NC state park system. Additional acreage was purchased from the estate after Katharine’s death in 1977.
Today the nature preserve demonstrates the natural beauty of the Sandhills region. The forest features sandy ridges of longleaf pine and scrub oak between hardwood-filled bottomlands. Old-growth trees can be found on the Boyd tract; some are more than 450 years old.
The preserve is home to several rare species, including the red-cockaded woodpecker, the pine barrens tree frog, the bog spicebush, and the fox squirrel.
Visiting The Preserve
Weymouth Woods Sandhills Preserve offers a variety of activities, including hiking, birding, and picnicking. Bicycles are not permitted, and pets must be on a leash.
Located at 1024 N Fort Bragg Rd in Southern Pines, the park is open daily with varying hours depending on the season. Admission is free.