“Make the people love the forest.” Those were Governor Hunt’s words of advice on the opening of DuPont State Forest some 20 years ago, and also the inspiration for the inaugural DuPont Forest Festival, happening this month on National Public Lands Day. All adventures in this mountainous tract in Henderson and Transylvania counties — from kayaking, graveyard tours, biking, fly-fishing, stand-up paddleboarding, and a kids’ waterfall-safety tour — are planned with this commitment in mind.
Since the turn of the millennium, Friends of DuPont Forest has fought to save the waterfalls and preserve them for residents and tourists. Portions of the first Hunger Games movie were filmed in DuPont, adding star quality to the scenic draw. So with a head count now numbering 750,000 per year, the goal becomes teaching guests, in turn, how to safely use and preserve the property, says Sara Landry, Friends of Dupont Forest’s executive director. “All of the activities weave in how to take care of the forest,” she notes.
Don Surrette, a longtime resident of Transylvania County, member of the American Chestnut Foundation, and volunteer on the grounds, exemplifies those who share Landry’s goal. Surrette will talk about the restoration of blight-resistant American Chestnut trees on the 10,000-acre property, and lead tours to three of the four main sites. (A fungus in the early 20th century destroyed billions of the species, which once comprised 25% of the Appalachian hardwood canopy.) Assisted by volunteers from the Friends of DuPont Forest, among others, Surrette tends and monitors the chestnuts. Though he’s retired from the namesake DuPont plant that once made medical-imaging film — part of the acreage the state purchased for public lands after the facility closed — he confesses a lifelong love of the property. “I always felt it was a good place to be a part of the [tree-replanting] effort.”
Visitors will be treated to Surrette’s wit — then go outside to see trees from two to 30 feet tall. By the end, they’ll better understand how breeding efforts aim to retain the characteristics of pure American Chestnuts while gaining resistance to blight.
It’s essential to pass along knowledge, says Surrette. Kids who witness DuPont’s famous waterfalls will remember the experience, and maybe bring their own kids someday. “There’ll be people here from now on,” he points out. “We have individuals who grow trees [now]. But that can change as we pass on.”
Volunteers like Surrette, says Landry, enrich visitors’ experiences via their deep familiarity with the forest. “They know so much, and they can tell so many stories.”
Dupont Forest Festival (1300 Staton Road, Cedar Mountain) happens Saturday, Sept. 22, 9am-6pm. Don Surrette leads American Chestnut tours from 10am-12pm. For a full list of events and for more information, see dupontforest.com.