The attack of the Stinging Nettles and The Oldest Tree (So Far) at Bays Mountain Park

The attack of the Stinging Nettles and The Oldest Tree (So Far) at Bays Mountain Park

Published by: David Cate
August 29, 2022

The first time I met Tyler Wicks was earlier in the Spring as he walked me out to show me the new Legacy Trail at Bays Mountain Park. Bays Mountain has over 44 miles of scenic hiking trails, a great way to commemorate the Park's 50th Anniversary. 

Tyler had recently come to Bays Mountain from two state parks, Roan Mountain State Park and Falls Creek Falls State Park. He's a native of Rockwood, Tennessee, and he came to Bays Mountain Park because of his respect for Megan Krager, the new Park Director.

I was amazed at Tyler's knowledge of the mountains of East Tennessee and the details in which he described how trails are made. Our short journey was just the beginning of exciting times with Tyler, including the taste of a Sourwood Tree.

Several weeks ago, we planned to go back into the Park and measure a large oak tree near Front Hollow Road and Jack Jones Road. This area was where early settlers had homesteads deep in the woods. 

Last week, we met late Thursday afternoon and climbed in the Dodge Super Ram maintenance vehicle. Then we drove out the primary hiking trails until the accessible roads ended and opened the gates into the old trails. Driving a maintenance truck on these trails was a rock-grabbing, neck-twisting journey back to this gigantic tree in the middle of the two mountains.

We stalked the tree for several minutes to get some perspective with the still camera, but we were here for Tyler's experiment. He wanted to measure this tree and estimate its age.  

After the short video, we drove the truck to the Eastman trails and Dolan Branch. Eastman and Bays Mountain Park maintain this property, and this area is some of the oldest parts of the forest. You can follow the cast-iron pipe used to carry the water to the City of Kingsport from the reservoir. 

Along the way, I told Tyler one of my favorite trees is beech trees. I love their canopy and specifically mentioned that I couldn't imagine a Beech tree in this part of the forest with all these tall hardwoods like Oak and Poplar. But there it was.

I was surprised to see several beech trees in this part of the forest, some with roots shooting up to vault a trunk and tree straight up in the air.

But this tree was guarded by a strange plant. Tyler warned me of something he called "stinging nettle," but I wasn't aware of anything like that in the woods. After all, I came to the Park wearing shorts on this outing.

It turns out "stinging nettle" is an import from Europe that now calls Bays Mountain and other areas in our region home. Wikipedia describes "Stinging Nettles" as "hollow stinging hairs called trichomes on the leaves and stems, which act like hypodermic needles, injecting histamine and other chemicals that produce a stinging sensation upon contact. 

Fortunately, these impaling microscope needles aren't lethal, but I can accurately describe the experience as needles like jalapenos. Very uncomfortable up front, but a dip in the mountain streams eased the pain quickly as the needles were very, very small.

Tyler made his way up to the tree and made another measurement before we headed back. Another 200-year-old beech tree, according to its growth factor, multiplied times the circumference.

It was interesting to learn about how to tell a tree's age. I'll probably never look at big trees in the same way again. 

Tyler offers a good solution if you want to measure your tree.

  1. Grab your tape
  2. Measure your tree breast height around
  3. Note the measurement in inches
  4. Use a Tree Species guide to locate the growth factor estimation
  5. Do the math

I'm sure there are plenty more ancient grandfather trees at Bays Mountain, and perhaps someday, we'll get an inventory of those trees, but for now, see if you can find these on your own and let us know at This Is Kingsport what you found.