We’d like to share a few highlights from our pilot year of the Forest Stewards program from mid-July 2022 to January 31, 2023.
- Forest Steward volunteers conducted visits to their assigned “Routes”—hiking routes following Forest roads and foot trails—roughly twice per month with the goal of monitoring the effects of recreation on the Forest, monitoring the state of roads and foot trails, providing an ambassador-like presence for recreational visitors, and reporting their findings to Duke Forest staff.
- Forest Stewards conducted 195 visits to their routes over the course of 6 months and spent nearly 260 hours in the Forest.
- A central purpose to the Forest Stewards Program is to ameliorate the recreational impact (read more at our 2020 Recreational Impact Statement here) that Duke Forest staff have observed over time and to educate recreational visitors about their role in stewarding the Duke Forest Teaching and Research Laboratory. Over the course of the 6-month program, Forest Stewards:
- Provided resources to recreational visitors, including information about the purpose of the Forest Stewards Program and the impact of recreation, the importance of Duke Forest’s teaching and research mission, and the overall mission and management of the Duke Forest Teaching and Research Laboratory, from how Duke Forest staff manage wildlife to how we steward the forest ecosystem.
- Discussed the importance of leashing dogs in the Duke Forest (important for protecting the Forest ecosystem and for the safety of all recreational visitors) and provided a Duke Forest dog leash when needed.
- Informed cyclists to stay on graveled Forest roads (biking is not permitted on foot trails).
- Provided directions, information about Duke Forest recreational maps, or contact and website information for the Office of the Duke Forest.
Meanwhile, Forest Stewards also monitored their Routes for important management and maintenance needs. Over the 6-month program, Forest Stewards submitted:
- 65 reports about tree-related issues (most of which involved downed trees and branches from Hurricane Ian in late September 2022).
- 37 reports about unauthorized trail activities, including reporting off-trail activity or “social trails” that have emerged in the Forest.
- 23 reports about trail or road issues, including maintenance of drainage ditches or culverts along the Forest roads, standing water on foot trails, and vegetative overgrowth in need of trimming.
- 21 reports about infrastructure and signs, which contributed to the Duke Forest hosting a volunteer workday to restore foot bridges on the Shepherd Nature Trail.
All in all, Forest Steward volunteers resolved 101 reports (out of 211 reports submitted in total) on their own, conducting everything from a conversation with a recreational visitor to a light maintenance activity like brushing up an unauthorized trail. Thank you for all of your hard work, Forest Stewards!