Southern Agenda

All Spruced Up

Probably few drivers on the Blue Ridge Parkway realize they’re passing through a little-known ecosystem where species like Carolina northern flying squirrels, spruce-fir moss spiders, and saw-whet owls make their homes in high-elevation spruce-fir forests, which grow in the coldest sections of Southern Appalachian peaks. Logging has left these forests a patchwork of their former glory, but Southern Highlands Reserve, a small nonprofit and arboretum that perches atop Toxaway Mountain, is working to change that. “We are growing between eight hundred and twelve hundred red spruce trees a year, and we are going to amp that up with a new greenhouse,” says Kelly Holdbrooks, the reserve’s executive director, who helped found the Southern Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative. The team and its partners recently ferried a thousand two-and-a-half-foot- tall trees to Whitetop Mountain in Virginia, and this spring, hundreds of red spruces will continue growing in two hoop houses, earmarked for Black Mountain in North Carolina. “I won’t live to see the forests we plant, but we don’t plant for ourselves,” Holdbrooks says. “We are planting for our kids and our grandchildren.”,