Learn about forests at Turnbull Creek

CorrespondentMarch 2, 2013 

Exhibits at Turnbull Creek Educational State Forest include an original turpentine still.


  • Details

    What: Turnbull Creek Educational State Forest

    Where: Elizabethtown

    When: Open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays, Saturdays by request.

    Admission: Free.

    Info: 910-588-4161 or ncesf.org/TCESF/home.htm

Turnbull Creek Educational State Forest, in Bladen County, is one of North Carolina’s six educational state forests.


From Raleigh, Turnbull Creek is about 76 miles, about a 1-1/3 hour drive.

To see and do

North Carolina’s educational state forests are described as outdoor classrooms where visitors can learn about the complex ecosystem of a forest and gain a better understanding and appreciation of forests. At Turnbull Creek, this is clearly demonstrated at the Naval Stores Exhibit area, where benches are positioned in front of an original turpentine still that operated from 1890 to 1912. Resin was collected from pine trees by chipping the bark, allowing the gum to ooze down the surface into a collection box. The resin was then delivered to distilleries where it was condensed into turpentine. Also exhibited is a representative tar kiln – a “tarkel” – that enabled pinewood to be burned slowly, a process by which tar could be released from the wood and allowed to drain into a collection pit. Tar was used to waterproof ship rigging; pitch was used to caulk ships’ hulls and decks.

During the days of wooden ships, naval stores were as important as oil is today, and from 1720 to 1870, North Carolina led the world in the production of such products.

The Fire Control Exhibit showcases some of the tools used to help spot – and stop – forest fires, including a T-34 airplane used by the N.C. Forest Service in numerous ways – as a patrol plane when danger of fire is high, as a scout plane to help direct ground personnel during firefighting efforts and as a lead plane guiding air tankers to target areas. Also exhibited is an air tanker (capable of carrying up to 275 gallons of fire retardant) and a tractor plow, which is used to create a “fire break” or containment line.

The Turnbull Creek Trail, an easy-to-moderate path, loops its way down a hillside to blackwater Turnbull Creek, which gets its dark “tea” color from the tannic acid formed by rotting limbs, twigs and leaves. The trail takes 30-45 minutes to walk, including time to stop and listen to the brief taped messages at several points along the trail delivered by “talking” trees that tell visitors about themselves, their uses, their surroundings and general history of the forest.

Close by Turnbull Creek is Jones Lake State Park. Jones is one of seven “bay lakes” in Bladen County. The lake has a shoreline of 2.2 miles and a depth of only 8.7 feet, and the shallow water is perfect for swimming. The tea-colored water is dark, but clear and free of sediment. There’s a small sandy beach ideal for sunbathing, and a concession stand, bathhouse and pier are located nearby. A fee is charged for swimming Memorial Day through Labor Day, when canoes and paddleboats can also be rented. Camping, hiking, fishing, and picnicking are also popular pastimes. Campgrounds are open mid-March through November.

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