Volunteers help restore Atlantic white cedar forest in Dismal Swamp State Park

More than 40 volunteers worked to restore native habitat in Dismal Swamp State Park in Camden County by planting 3,000 Atlantic white cedar seedlings during a three-day project in late April and early May.

The restoration effort began in 2013 and has been co-sponsored by the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership, which helped obtain the trees raised by the N.C. Forest Service. Since 2013, 16,000 seedlings have been planted in the park, and the initial planting included 10,000 trees in an area heavily damaged by Hurricane Isabel and subsequently burned in a forest fire. Those have taken hold and are growing, helping to store floodwaters, protect against drought and improve water quality.

Mature stand of Atlantic white cedar.

The volunteers included members of Friends of Dismal Swamp State Park, the local Cub Scout Pack 158 and community residents. The group also involved more than 30 members of the U.S. Navy Search and Rescue Unit Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 26 from Norfolk, Va.

Atlantic white cedar – also known as juniper, southern white cedar and swamp cedar – was once a dominant feature of the Great Dismal Swamp and other forested wetlands of the Albemarle-Pamlico region. Though now recognized as ecologically valuable, the species was historically used for shingles, boats and siding, and extensive logging, draining and clearing for agriculture led to its decline from coverage of more than 200,000 acres in the late 1890s to less than 10,000 acres today. Cedar forests support rich ecosystems, numerous songbirds and the rare Hessel’s hairstreak butterfly.

Dismal Swamp State Park, encompassing 14,432 acres of the larger Great Dismal Swamp, is one of only a few places where visitors can experience the swamp and view an Atlantic white cedar forest. The swamp is a unique feature of the 28,000-square-mile area that drains into the Albemarle-Pamlico estuarine system. The estuary partnership has also been involved in restoration of the important peatland hydrology in the park with partners The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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