The Wonder Open stands of virgin longleaf pines interspersed with low grasses once covered up to 90 million acres from Virginia to Texas, forming the Southeast’s dominant ecosystem. In the last 200 years, fire suppression has allowed other species to flourish, while logging of this sturdy, slow-growing tree with 1.5-foot needles has decimated 97 percent of its historic range. Of the 2 to 3 million remaining acres, less than 1 percent contain gnarled old-growth specimens, which can exceed 300 years in age and provide vital habitat for endangered species like red-cockaded woodpeckers.
The Way The Nature Conservancy’s Moody Natural Area 100 miles west of Savannah, Georgia, preserves about 250 acres of old-growth longleaf pine. Tour it on Tavia’s Trail, a three-mile lollipop beginning one mile west of the park’s office. At .25 mile, look right for the characteristic crooked crown at the 100-foot tops of otherwise spear-straight trunks. Wander among the giants, then turn left at .5 mile and drop about 100 feet to the Altamaha River floodplain. Follow the loop back to the office. nature.org