Wilderness Site

fishing egrets

"In the end we will conserve only what we love. We love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught."

Baba Dioum 

Wilderness Site

The Moravian Settlers carved their small settlement out of a 100,000-acre natural area which had been used by Native Americans in the past for hunting and trading. The Moravians treated this virtually undisturbed land with a respect that seems altogether modern.

  • An extraordinary Moravian named Christian Reuter was the first forest ranger in North Carolina. His maps and inventories of the plants and animals of this new found land has left an amazing legacy of his record of Bethabara's 18th century natural environment. 
  • Today the Park's 183-acre wildlife area contains many of the same plants and animals that Reuter discovered. The museum honors the Moravian respect as an example for our own times.

Enjoying the “Poindexter Wildlife Preserve” Wetlandschoris frog

There were 200 million acres of wetlands in the United States two hundred years ago… but most of it has been lost to farming, housing, commercial development and roads. We at Historic Bethabara Park are fortunate to have a six-and-a-half acre wetland within our grounds. This wetland is home to countless plants and animals and offers unlimited educational opportunities for students and citizens interested in the natural environment.

Every walk in the wetland is a unique adventure. Turtles bask on logs in the sunshine while dragonflies chase insects. The great blue heron is a spectacular resident of the area. A sighting of beavers may reward a sunset visit to our wetland pond. Catching a glimpse of a playful otter or muskrat swimming near the edge underscores the diversity of this complex environment.

A quiet time with a pair of binoculars and a field guide may be the beginning of a life-long hobby of bird watching. Migrating birds depend on these wetlands for food. Wood ducks and geese entertain as they swim in and out of the fallen trees and cattails. The dead trees or snags provide homes for cavity nesters. Hawks and herons, large and easy to spot, are among the more than 125 species of birds inventoried by the Audubon Society.

Making all of this possible is the wonderful collection of plants in the area. The forest next to Mill Creek is cool and humid with lush growth of trees and wildflowers. Sedges, rushes and cattails form the border of the pond and floating plants such as water lilies and duckweed cover part of the surface.

Just being outside and in nature is enough for some visitors. Others observe the great numbers of plants and animals, each in its ecological niche. Field guides help identify birds, insects, wildflowers, animal tracks, or whatever may interest the visitor, however, the most important things to bring with you to the wetlands are your curiosity and a willingness to study and observe this natural area. The beauty of the Bethabara wetlands is unmistakable when viewed in this manner.

Learn more about the Bethabara Wetlands…

The current wetlands are a re-creation of those that existed when the Moravians arrived. Wetlands form when beavers move into a low area surrounding a stream.

momma snapperThe beavers cut down trees to make a dam, backing up the stream’s water and creating a safe place for their lodge. Sedges, rushes and cattails grow along the border of the pond and water lilies and duckweed spread over the surface. These plants filter out dirt and help reduce pollution. The wetland, itself, controls floods and supplies water during droughts.

 

However, the trees in the area soon die because their roots cannot survive under water. Once useful trees in an area are gone, the beavers move on. Eventually, the dam breaks apart and the area dries up again. Plants and trees move back in and the cycle renews (our pond, though, has a reinforced dam, so its natural cycle is interrupted.)

 

Around 60 million beaver roamed the new world when the Moravians arrived, yet by 1900, beavers were nearly extinct. North Carolina reintroduced colonies in 1939 and 1957. By 1985, beavers were in 80 of the 100 North Carolina counties and our current wetland formed with a large lodge visible from Reynolda Road.

Marsh Boardwalk Trail Guide [pdf/1.48mb/3p] 

 (Photos by Katherine Thorington)

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