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Forest classroom buds at Montpelier
New Montpelier Demonstration Forest shows various methods of managing woodlands

 A silky dogwood (foreground) will grow at the edge of a wildlife meadow in the Montpelier Demonstration Forest.
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Date published: 4/18/2010

By Rob Hedelt

STANDING on a bridge that's a gateway be-tween an old-growth forest of towering tulip poplars and a younger stand of oaks, hickories and other species, Sandy Mudrinich said it was the perfect place to start.

"What we've developed here is an outdoor laboratory, a trail through a demonstration forest where students and landowners can come and learn the best ways to manage a healthy and sustainable forest," said the horticulturist at James Madison's Montpelier in Orange County.

The Montpelier Demonstration Forest, where an educational experience unfolds along a pristine one-mile loop behind Madison's restored home, officially opened yesterday with remarks from former U.S. Sen. John Warner, guided tours and other activities.

I met Mudrinich at the educational trail and forest earlier in the week to see the new offering she says will be used by Montpelier visitors, school groups, Virginia Cooperative Extension agents and landowners considering how to be the best stewards of their own property.

For the past year and a half, Montpelier has worked with groups ranging from the Virginia Department of Forestry to the Sustainable Forestry Project and a host of volunteers and timber crews to create the demonstration forest.

The trail, blazed with an outline of the white oaks that dot the forest, takes visitors to several different areas where very different methods of forest management are demonstrated.

At the bridge that begins the trail, Mudrinich noted that visitors are leaving the James Madison Landmark Forest, a place where the forest was left to grow on its own, producing a canopy hundreds of feet above.

Crossing the bridge takes visitors to the start of the new trail and an area where pines, hemlocks and red cedars have given way to hardwoods that may one day match the trees in the old-growth forest.

The second stop on the trail, a wildlife meadow, is more of a striking change.

Mudrinich said the open, level spot had once been used for gardens by those at Montpelier, but years of neglect had let invasive species and less-desirable trees and brush grow.

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