The U.S. Forest Service is warning hikers to stay back a good 50 feet or so from a towering poplar tree in Macon County that is now rotting and falling apart.
The Wasilik Poplar is the second-largest tree of its kind in the nation, but now — because of falling limbs and other debris — poses a potential danger. Lightening struck the tree more than two decades ago, and the poplar is long dead, though it remains an imposing sight and is a popular hiking objective for both locals and visitors to the area.
The Wasilik Poplar’s girth measures 26 feet in circumference. To put that into perspective, consider that a one-lane road is generally 10- or 11-feet wide.
“It’s amazing,” said Cindy Laninfa, who hiked the short but steep 1.4-mile Wasilik Poplar Trail near Standing Indian Campground one day last week with husband David to view the Macon County landmark. “You just stand here in awe — I’d like to have seen it when it was living.”
The poplar isn’t in good shape. In addition to lightening and storm damage, the tree has slowly been rotting away for years. There isn’t much bark left, and the tree’s lifespan probably wasn’t enhanced by some people’s need to carve their initials into the trunk. Bits of limbs are scattered about, visual evidence of why the Forest Service has warned people to stand safely back.
Signs have been prominently posted, at the trailhead and near the tree itself.
The Laninfas said they were happy the Forest Service hasn’t opted just to cut the tree down.
“I don’t think they should cut it,” Cindy Laninfa said. “Let it fall, naturally.”
The poplar tree was named for John Wasilik, a former ranger on the Wayah District for the Nantahala National Forest.
Want to go?
To reach Wasilik Poplar Trail from Franklin, travel west along U.S. 64, past Winding Stair Gap to the sign for Standing Indian Campground and the Appalachian Trail; turn left. Continue for about one mile to a sign for the campground, and turn right onto Forest Service Road 67. Travel one-half mile to Rock Gap and the trailhead, located on your left.