A treasure trove of beautiful trees, distinctive flowers and other surprises can be found in Lost Creek Forest (LCF). The forest is located just off of Airport Road adjacent to Thomasville Regional Airport in Thomas County.
Tours of LCF are being offered by Friends of Lost Creek Forest Inc. — a gathering of local nature enthusiasts who seek to preserve the indigenous trees, shrubs, flowers and ecosystems found within the forest. The mission of this local, non-profit organization is to support, promote and further the protection and resource conservation of the public land known as Lost Creek Forest in Thomas County; scientific and historical study of its natural and cultural resources; and public environmental education and stewardship.
LCF is an old-growth hardwood slope forest and wetlands. Old growth means there has been very little disturbance by humans; and it has never been cut. This is an extremely rare occurrence. The forest is jointly owned by the City of Thomasville and Thomas County as part of the airport’s property. The city and county have given the Friends permission to conduct activities at the forest. No other public access is allowed.
A slope forest supports a wide variety of hardwoods and spruce pine. This one is also a beech-magnolia-spruce pine forest. There are very few invasive plants in the heart of the forest except on the edges, which is a strong indication of a healthy mature climax forest. Most forests that have experienced significant disturbance are plagued with invasives. There are sections of planted pines near Pavo Road. Due to logging and fire exclusion, the slope forest has crept up into the rest of the uplands, with interesting stands of succession forest where the planted pines have been cut or not maintained with fire.
LCF contains canopy trees. The canopy — or top level of the largest trees — is composed of beech, magnolia, spruce pine, several species of hickory (pignut, mockernut, and bitternut), oaks (swamp chestnut oak, white oak, laurel oak, live oak, Southern red oak, black oak), sweet gum, loblolly pine, black cherry, and red bay trees. This particular forest has a significant band of the slope containing many large white oaks. Because it is so unusual, this would make an interesting subject for research.
LCF also has understory trees. The various species of mid-level trees there include hop hornbeam, red maple, American holly, hornbeam, hawthorns, wild olive and bumelia.
In terms of its shrub level, LCF possesses many types, including horse-sugar, several blueberry species, bluestem palmetto, needle palm, pawpaw, two species of wild azalea (pinxter and swamp), Sebastian bush, strawberry bush (also called hearts-a-bustin or hearts-a-bustin-with-love) and many others.
LCF contains herbaceous plants. The most significant type is the endangered Florida milkvine. LCF has been documented to contain the largest population in Georgia of this rare plant, with 50 plants counted in one year. A clear sign of the lack of disturbance is found in extensive groundcovers of a thornless, low smilax species called sarsparilla vine, along with and partridgeberry. Other plants of interest include Jack-in-the-pulpit, two species of tiny orchids (crane-fly and green-fly), beechdrops, wild ginger, many species of ferns (including Virginia chain fern, cinnamon fern, Christmas fern, royal fern and ebony spleenwort) and many others. LCF boasts over 100 species of lichen which remain to be surveyed.
This forest maintains a cultural heritage. The largest trails there are on old roads from World War II, which led to an upland artillery range (that was later converted to planted pine) and to what is now Country Oaks Golf Course. The latter was used for night driving training. There are mounds which were created for training activities. Numerous trash dumps from that era could provide interesting research for archeology students. Between the 1970s and 1990s, there were archery clubs that used the forest for training and competitions. Several old wooden and coconut fiber targets and many mounds of man-made materials that once supported targets and figures of animals are still present. A few of the numbered station signs remain with advertisements from local businesses that sponsored the clubs back then.
Within the forest, animals abound — deer, gray squirrels, a variety of butterflies, moths, other insects, frogs and snakes. There is evidence that raccoons, beavers, and otters reside in LCF. Other people have reported wild turkeys coming out of the forest. Elders have reported that mink were there in past years. As is the case in most areas in the South, there are invasive armadillos. Many species of birds live in the forest or take shelter there during migrations. Further exploration of LCF will almost certainly result in the discovery of many more animals there.
Margaret C. “Twitty” Titus — board member of the Friends of Lost Creek Forest — said, “Preserving Lost Creek Forest was the last environmental project my father, Theo Titus, took a stand on. When I told him it was going to be saved, he cried. In this pristine forest, I sense his profound reverence for nature’s deep wisdom. Being there humbles me and renews my devotion to protecting the creation for those who come after me.” Her father wrote a nature column for the Times-Enterprise for many years and served as a state senator in the 1990s.
The Board of Directors for Friends of Lost Creek Forest has 11 members who are dedicated to preserving the natural beauty and resources of LCF for future generations. Members are Beth Grant, Fred Hester, Charles Conklin, Will Sheftall, Dr. Christine Ambrose, Margaret (Twitty) Titus, Kitty Spivey, Ruth Ann Maxwell, Rev. Arthur Jones III, Joe Burnam and Rick Barnes.
Grant, president and founder of The Friends, said, “ It is an honor to work to protect it and a joy to share it with others! No matter how I may feel whenever I enter it, I always leave feeling peaceful and happy! We need wilderness to thrive, and we are very fortunate to have this magnificent forest in our community! I hope our citizens will join us in experiencing this special place and working to conserve it for all future generations!”
May walks will vary between walks on trails in the forest on the slope and wanderings among the wetlands and along Lost Creek.
n Forest walk, Sunday, 3 p.m.-4:30 p.m. — Enjoy the beauty of an old growth, climax forest with huge white oak, swamp chestnut oak, spruce pine, and beech. Experience the diversity of a natural forest, largely free of invasives and other disturbances.
n Wander in the wetlands, May 10, 4 p.m.-6 p.m. — Wander on the lower slope near and in the wetlands and along Lost Creek. Look for signs of beavers, otters and other wildlife. Possible plants: swamp azalea, royal fern, chain fern, sphagnum moss, beech drops, mushrooms, greenfly orchid, needle palm and wetland trees like hornbeam and redbay. Wear waterproof boots.
n Forest walk, May 16, 4 p.m-5:30 p.m.
n Wander in the wetlands, May 18, 3 p.m.-5 p.m.
n Wander in the wetlands, May 20, 10 a.m.-12 p.m.
n Forest walks, May 24, 10 a.m-11:30 a.m.; 1 p.m-2:30 p.m.
Pre-register at lostcreekforest.eventbrite.com or, if you do not use a computer, you may call Grant at 227-9844. You can join the group to help support the gentle use and conservation of this local treasure.
Yhe tours offered by Friends of Lost Creek Forest Inc. are free. Additional information can be found on the website: http://friendsoflostcreekforest.org and FB page https://www.facebook.com/LostCreekForest. Email inquiries may be sent to Lostcreekforest@gmail.com.