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  • Writer's pictureCrystal Faircloth

Turnbull Is Bladen's Hidden Gem

There's a diamond in the rough in Bladen County, and it comes in the form of pine trees and woods. Turnbull Creek Educational State Forest (TCESF) is a managed forest that consists of a variety of timber types and stands with longleaf pine being the signature feature. The longleaf pine ecosystem is native to this area and one of the most diverse forested ecosystems in North America. TCESF also has a unique historical component with displays and authentic relics of rich naval stores history from colonial North Carolina.

TCESF began as part of Bladen Lakes State Forest, and today, it spans over 33,000 acres in and around Bladen County. TCESF's 890-acre portion was originally designated as an education area that visitors could drive through and see forested stands and some exhibits.

At first, the facility was named Bladen Lakes Educational State Forest, but in July of 1993, the name was changed to Turnbull Creek Educational State Forest to highlight Turnbull Creek, a major boundary and feature of the forest. It is the only educational state forest in the coastal region of N.C.

TCESF has been used for forestry research and as a landing zone for military aircraft in years past. Turnbull Creek Educational State Forest hosts groups of all ages and sizes for classes on forest-related topics. It is also open to visitors for self-guided tours and hiking its trails and is considered a demonstration forest to show forest landowners and stakeholders how to manage property for their land management objectives.

The word 'educational' is a proud component of the forest's name. There is much to see, do, and learn at Turnbull, so educators may want to take advantage of a field trip to the location.

"We have several scheduled trips and events on the books for the year already," said Carrie McCullen, Forest Supervisor. "Ranger-led classes taught at the forest cover topics such as: forest habitat and ecosystems, tree identification, how trees grow, predator-prey relationships in forest habitats, papermaking, naval stores (a historical class about North Carolina’s first industry- the production of tar and turpentine from longleaf pine trees), forest management, wildfire control and much more. Guided (ranger-led) classes and hikes are scheduled in advance, so that forest staff can accommodate group size, grade level, and other needs."

McCullen said group leaders can also reserve their large, open-air picnic shelter in advance for having a picnic lunch with their students. All visitors can come out to the forest during the hours of operation, but ranger-led classes require advance scheduling.

While wandering through the trees at Turnbull, you may find some unusual creatures and plants among the thickets. Visitors can find fox squirrels, red-cockaded woodpeckers, any number of snakes and frogs, longleaf pine trees, wild blueberry, prickly pear cactus, milkweed, lupine, false indigo, savannah meadow beauty, Carolina jasmine, and many other native species. These groups are not specific to TCESF alone, but the habitat created by the forest supports these plants and animals and allows them to thrive. The red-cockaded woodpeckers are an endangered species of bird that lives solely within the native range of old-growth longleaf pine, so having habitat suitable for these birds is quite special.

TCESF also offers classes during their peak season from March 1 – Nov. 1. Starting March 11, staff are conducting ranger-led classes every Saturday of the month, Classes will rotate through different themes monthly and will be held from 2-3 p.m. Topics include Guided Hike with a Ranger, Naval Stores History, Forest Measurements 101, Fire Control 101, and Art and History of Papermaking. The criteria will count towards an N.C. Environmental Education Certification.

Though Turnbull's main focus is learning, there is plenty of play to be had on the grounds. Visitors can have a picnic, go hiking, bicycling, or bird watching. TCESF as serves as an ecoEXPLORE location. EcoEXPLORE is an incentive-based citizen science program for children in grades K-8. Developed by the N.C. Arboretum, this innovative program combines science exploration with kid-friendly technology to foster a fun learning environment for children while encouraging them to explore the outdoors and participate in citizen science.

"Turnbull Creek Educational State Forest is an 890-acre hidden gem for forestry education, recreation, and forest management demonstration in the heart of Bladen County," explained McCullen. "There’s something for everyone to do here. To find out what we have going on at the forest, folks can call the forest office number or check out our website for a list of upcoming events and scheduled classes."

If you're interested in any of the activities available at Turnbull, visit their website at You can also call the forest office at 910.588.4161.

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