Behind the Fall Scenes

A message from Assistant Director of Engagement Blake Tedder

Forest Greetings,

Mowing the roads

Every year, late summer and fall is our busiest time when our staff are working on the many varied and important fronts of our mission and strategic plan seemingly all at once. Much (maybe most) of this work goes on unseen. Many of our e-LOG subscribers, neighbors, after work runners, and weekend hikers may not have a sense of all that happens year-after-year to support the dynamic, working forest that visitors enjoy from the roads and trails. With this post, I share a peak behind the scenes at some (but not all!) of the projects we’re working on this fall. I hope it helps the Forest’s visitors appreciate just what a spectacular resource this 7,100 teaching and research laboratory is and what it takes to steward it.

Teaching and Research

Maggie with students

Each fall as the academic calendar revs into motion, researchers submit new registrations, establishing new sites, or some ask new and important questions at their long-established sites. Duke undergraduate and graduate instructors and ROTC leaders too plan out class field trips and activities. Both teachers and researchers coordinate with our office extensively about access, timing, location, and the logistics of their projects. Over the summer, we built from scratch a new and modern database to manage and track all teaching and research projects, replacing the trustworthy but antiquated system we had used for a couple of decades. We are particularly excited about some of the new functionalities the technological leap will provide. We aim to inspire the next generation of researchers too. We have also been outreaching to undergraduates, tabling at start-of-semester student fairs and asking new students “How will you use the Duke Forest while you’re at Duke?

Management & Stewardship

Tom leading staff in our annual review of the Wildfire Response Plan

All of our staff have been working for months to prepare for the critically important 15th annual deer herd reduction hunt—working closely with the select hunting groups and the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, orienting and training hunters, preparing signage, sending out regional announcements, and performing other tasks that create a safe and effective hunt (Read more about why we manage the deer population). Our field team takes a lead on the physical aspects of preparing the Forest for the hunt in addition to their regular seasonal activities like wrapping up summer mowing and maintenance and assisting researchers in establishing and/or maintaining research sites. Completing a long-scheduled timber harvest in the Durham Division has been a highlight of the late summer for them, especially as we enter audit season. All of our staff—but especially our Executive Director Sara Childs and Forest Supervisor Tom Craven—are gearing up for the annual audit of our management practices. We are proud of our work in this area. In 2021, we received a FSC Sustainability Leadership Award for our commitment to and excellence in sustainable management and stewardship. And just this year, Maintenance Technician Craig Hughes was acknowledged by Sustainable Duke in Duke’s 2022 Sustainability Awards.

Community Engagement

American Toad by community scientist Tom Griffin

Our Program Coordinator Maggie Heraty is keeping track of two very industrious groups of volunteers—our Forest Stewards and Community Scientists. Our new Forest Stewards Program is in its pilot year through January, and, through it, we are determining the best ways to activate our passionate volunteers to help us in stewarding and monitoring the Duke Forest. I am engaging our dedicated and endlessly creative Volunteer Photography Corps volunteers in a newly redesigned program which has them creating volunteer-driven educational projects (with their stunning pictures of course!). I am also starting to write and design The Duke Forest LOG, our annual print newsletter. And, finally, anticipating the most normal year in the past three, we are in the beginning stages of planning an in-person Annual Gathering on November 17th (mark your calendars!). 

Strategic and Collaborative Work

Staff strategic planning

On top of these typical annual preparations, this fall, we are halfway into a full review and 10-year update of our Management Plan—a 100+ page document outlining how we manage the Forest. Our decadal Recreation Survey, which is deployed now goes hand-in-hand with our Management Plan update. We’ve had nearly 550 responses to this s so far. (If you haven’t responded yet, please do so here!). Our work as members of the Eno-New Hope Landscape Conservation Group also continues full steam. If you haven’t heard of the important work of this group yet, learn about the region-wide efforts to connect wildlife habitats which have been broken up extensively by development and roads. The Duke Forest is recognized as an important geographic anchor in this effort. Finally, we are engaging in the year-long process of updating our five-year strategic plan, which certainly will include plans for the Duke Forest will play a vital role in Duke’s soon-to-be-announced Climate Commitment.

Underneath all of our team’s work is the quiet and multi-tasking effort of our faithful and steady Administrative Assistant Beverly Burgess. Bev handles all the receipts, accounts, finances, and phone calls (among a hundred other things) that make our team’s work so effective each fall.

The six of us on staff are absolutely dedicated to this land base and the visionary project to steward it in ways that balance all of the benefits it provides to Duke, to science, to learning, to the community, and to the ecological future of our region.

The Duke Forest is absolutely worth the dogged effort of our team, but we still cannot do this work alone. We have big dream projects that need your financial support. If you are inspired by what we do and would like to learn about these big projects and how you can contribute to our collective cause financially, please reach out to me this fall. You can take an easy first step today by becoming a Friend.



Blake Tedder
Assistant Director of Engagement
Office of the Duke Forest
E: | T: (919) 613-8631

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