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Forest classroom buds at Montpelier

April 18, 2010 12:36 am


A silky dogwood (foreground) will grow at the edge of a wildlife meadow in the Montpelier Demonstration Forest. lo0418Montpelierram1.jpg

An oak leaf marks the one-mile Montpelier Demonstration Forest trail, which opened to the public yesterday.

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.

"We came in, cleared the area and have planted several species of grasses and wildflowers," she said. "On the edges, to create a transition to the forest around it, we've planted shrubs and trees like dogwood, mulberry and others."

A key aspect of the meadow is the food and cover it will provide for wildlife.

The next two stops show areas where the thinning of some trees in an immature and then a mature forest can help accelerate growth and improve the quality and diversity of hardwoods.

One of those stops accentuates the difference, with a stand of trees to one side of the trail that has been thinned of invasive and problem saplings, while the stand on the opposite side has not been thinned at all.

"As the years go by, the differences in the growth in these two areas will become evident," said Mudrinich, who noted that the thinning provides trees better access to light, moisture and room to grow.

Another stop demonstrates the growth of pines, while another is an area where white and red oaks are getting some help.

Mudrinich said forestry officials have said oaks in this forest and others seem to need help these days to get started. Here, that help has included harvesting of competing trees and protection of young seedlings from deer with tubes and fencing.

Mudrinich, who is in tune with the trail enough to notice an explosion of white rue anemone flowers in one spot and jack-in-the-pulpit plants in another, said the trail demonstrates many different way to manage a forest.

"But the overall message is that no matter which you choose, there are effective ways to do each," she said.

Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415

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