A Little Piece of Ev-Hen: Brunswick County’s Little-Known Nature Preserve
Tucked in the woods just north of Winnabow is University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Ev-Henwood (pronounced heaven wood) Nature Preserve, a 174-acre tract of woods, creeks, swampland and trails that many people in the area don’t know exists. Donated by Mr. Troy Henry in 1991, Ev-Henwood Nature Preserve was set aside as an outdoor classroom, research facility and greenspace available for all to use.
Henry and most of his descendants used the land primarily for farming — corn, peas, sweet potatoes, peanuts, cotton and pears to name a few crops — although more unusual crops were harvested, too. In the 1850s, the family was involved in the naval stores industry and was harvesting raw pinesap from the long-leaf pines for the production of turpentine (the remains of the tar kiln used to extract turpentine remains on the grounds today). During the Great Depression, mistletoe and holly branches were sent to New York for sale; as a result, many of the holly trees in Ev-Henwood lack lower branches.
Henry saw another use for the land though — education — and in 1991 he donated a portion of the Ev-Henwood Nature Preserve to UNCW to be set aside for education and research activities. In his will, Henry granted UNCW the remainder of the land and an endowment, along with his hopes that Ev- Henwood would serve researchers, students and the public in a lasting way. It has.
“Each semester UNCW faculty and students conduct several research projects, some ongoing,” says Robert Warren, Landscape Services Superintendent for UNCW. “We have had inquiries from other universities and from state agencies interested in conducting research studies here as well.”
It’s no wonder Ev-Henwood is a popular research destination. Its 174 acres encompass a variety of environments; boast more than a dozen species of trees, shrubs and bushes; and contain replanted and naturally recovering farmland and timber tracts, not to mention the host of wildflowers that show themselves year-round and abundant fauna.
The educational aspects of Ev-Henwood aren’t limited only to university researchers; two learning trails wind through the preserve. The David Sieren Learning Trail and the Troy Henry Learning Trail are comprised of several smaller trails and are well marked with plant identification tags and learning stations that interpret and explain many of the natural features of Ev-Henwood. These two trails take about two hours each, and a free 33-page group leader’s guide (available as a free download at www.uncw.edu, search for Ev-Henwood, click the first link) brings the flora, fauna and history of Ev-Henwood to life.
On the 15 trails traversing the diverse habitats of Ev- Henwood Nature Preserve, there is no shortage of excellent spots for bird watching, walking and trail running or photography. More than 50 different bird species have been identified within the preserve’s environs, including the bobwhite quail, pileated woodpecker, cooper’s hawk, belted kingfisher and great blue heron. Spotting them is easy with a little stealth and patience as they nest, rest and feed in these rich habitats.
Only a few of the trails are dead ends, so, with the aid of a park map (available at the parking lot or for download as part of the guide leader’s packet) it is easy to make your walk as long or short as you like. UNCW maintains the trails nicely, making walking and trail running an easy affair. There are no dogs permitted in Ev-Henwood, no bicycles or other vehicles either, so leave the pooches and mountain bikes at home and help maintain the preserve for everyone’s enjoyment.
Photographic opportunities abound. From the birds to the seasonal flowers in bloom to your friends and family on the trail, it is easy to find a great picture to take within Ev-Henwood.
“One great photo we see time and again is out at Witch Hazel Point,” says Warren. “During winter, the witch hazel blooms all around the trail there. We see a lot of pictures of children on the trail there as they come down the hill.”
Like everyone who visits, Warren has his favorite sights, sounds and places in Ev-Henwood.
“I love the witch hazel that blooms in winter, and I love the approach along Blueberry Trail as it drops down into the swamp meadow. The sound of the creek and the potential to spot wildlife there makes it particularly beautiful,” he says. “But we can’t forget Gus, the bald cypress, on Beechnut Trail.”
Gus is a huge bald cypress, far bigger than the other bald cypresses that line this portion of Town Creek. At nearly 20 feet in circumference and more than six feet in diameter, it has been around for a while. Estimates vary, but, according to the Ev-Henwood Nature Preserve website, smaller trees in similar habitats in southeastern North Carolina have been determined to be more than 1,000 years old. Gus is hard to miss. It’s marked on the map and, due to its size, is easy to pick out.
According to Warren, there are no plans for the former residence of Henry, but there are plans to convert a storehouse on the property into a space appropriate to house a collection of artifacts and photographs documenting the history of Ev- Henwood. Donations to aid the preservation of Ev-Henwood and the expansion of its offerings are accepted through UNCW’s Division for University Advancement; call (910) 962-3879.
The future plans of Ev-Henwood include you. Explore the trails. Spot as many birds as you can. Discover the beauty of Brunswick County’s woods year round. From U.S. Highway 17, follow Old Town Creek Road to the intersection with Town Creek Road, turn right, then left on Rock Creek Road.
When to Visit
Like all natural areas, the sights, sounds and smells of Ev-Henwood vary by season. In early spring, the vegetation begins to break bud and the first wildflowers appear, the animals become more active as they start the year again. Around Mothers’ Day the stewartia, the signature plant of the preserve, begins to bloom. Then the azaleas, camellias and other plantings left by Henry. With summer comes the full green of the forest and the opportunity to see more wildlife. Fall brings cooler weather, a final bloom from the wildflowers and a rare sight in our area — trees in full color as they lose their leaves. Winter brings a hush to the forest that lingers until it all begins again.
What’s in a name?
ev-Henwood (pronounced like Heaven Wood) nature Preserve has an odd name. Henry wanted the university and community to enjoy the land while at the same time honoring his family names. ev-Henwood is a combination of his ancestors’ surnames: evans and Henry, and, when combined, they aptly describe the preserve.