Stewarding Connection: a Forest Farewell

Blake Tedder, our Assistant Director of Engagement, shares this letter with the Duke Forest community upon his transition to a new role within Duke’s Office of Climate and Sustainability.

March 7, 2024

Dear Duke Forest Supporters,

I hope this message finds you well and in touch with natural places that bring you wonder and inspiration. Maybe it’s your backyard garden or a favorite rock by the creek or your busy window bird feeder. These places of connection with nature – big or small – are more important than ever.

Over the past six years, I’ve had the privilege of being deeply connected to a big place as the Assistant Director of Engagement for the 7,100-acre Duke Forest Teaching and Research Laboratory. With its unique character, inspiring and complex history, slate of mounting modern challenges, and transformative mission, this place has made my time here more than a job. It has been a primary-source education for my growing stewardship ethic. As I take the next steps in my career with Duke’s Office of Climate and Sustainability (announcement below), I am taking these lessons with me and allowing my memories of being with this special land and our wonderful team to inform what sustainability and stewardship means to me.

A glimpse into these memories

  • I was handed a drip torch on a prescribed burn for oak regeneration and encouraged to lay a few lines of flame through the leaf litter. It was my first week on the job.
  • I saw my first salamanders in the wild, wriggling sleepily under a carefully raised coverboard in a transect surveyed by our community scientists and wondered what else was hidden out there.
  • I contemplated thousands of years of Piedmont geomorphology seven feet deep in orange clay at the bottom of one of Dr. Dan Richter’s soil pits.
  • I grew new “landscape eyes” shadowing forestry students as they measured tall trees, tracing ancient roadbeds with trading paths expert Tom Magnusson, and theorizing past land uses with ecologist Dr. Nicki Cagle.
  • I held an 18th-century Indigenous-made potsherd with watch gear rouletting excavated from the New Hope Creek floodplain by the UNC Research Laboratories of Archaeology team.
  • I crept a truck slowly through cold February nights with a high-powered spotlight aimed out the open window looking for a deer’s eyeshine.
  • I re-homed Notched Rainbow mussels with NC Wildlife Resources Commission biologists upstream of the Concrete Bridge – barefoot and completely numb from the knees down in frigid New Hope Creek.

These were never experiences I expected to have as someone in charge of building the first formal fundraising and communications programs for the Duke Forest (but what opportunities they were!). Every moment spent on the land not only made me better at my job of connecting people with the land and its mission, but each further solidified my understanding of the irreplaceable ecological, aesthetic, and academic values that the Forest provides Duke, our region, and our world.

Through my deepening connection with the land, I have not only appreciated its beauty and its usefulness, but I have been confronted by sobering evidence of climate change, rampant urbanization, and the societal trend toward disaffection with natural communities. The Duke Forest is a microcosm of our world – beautiful, resilient in some ways but quite vulnerable in many others, and clearly in need of our care. My time here has convinced me of our shared responsibility for the environment and of the dedication and teamwork that good stewardship requires.

As a team member with an incredible group of hard workers and problem solvers, I am very proud of what I was able to contribute. I didn’t have a chainsaw or shovel in my role, but those newsletters, social posts, videos, and annual reports fell in my purview. So did the Friends of Duke Forest giving program, the Volunteer Photography Corps, the original cohorts of the Herpetofauna of the Duke Forest, the short-lived but fun Phenology Community Science program, and so many more. They were all attempts to connect you with this incredible land base and with our mission. Thank you for engaging with the Duke Forest and with me through them all. I know you will continue, and so will I.

Although I will be working in a new office and have a new title, the Forest will remain a major part of my life. This land base is one of the most important environmental quality anchors in the region I call home. I am grateful to Duke University for protecting and championing it. I am also immensely grateful to the staff of the Duke Forest past, present, and future for the oft-unseen work that keeps this land in impeccable shape despite the odds. The Duke Forest will be, I am sure, one of Duke’s most enduring legacies.

I encourage you to stay connected with the Duke Forest and its wonderful staff. May it house many of your special places of nature connection – the ones you return to frequently to learn more about yourself and about our incredible planet. As we say here, “May the Forest be with you.”


Blake Tedder
Assistant Director of Engagement
Office of the Duke Forest

New Office of Climate and Sustainability Climate Program Manager

February 28. 2024

Dear OCS teammates, 

On behalf of the central OCS office and the Office of the Duke Forest, we’d like to announce that Blake Tedder will be joining the Office of Climate and Sustainability team as the new Climate Program Manager, effective March 18. 

Blake is no stranger to Duke, OCS, or the Climate Commitment, having successfully worked in the Office of the Duke Forest for the last six years, overseeing engagement, fundraising, and communications. Those of you who know Blake and have worked with him know that he is a strategic thinker, a skilled communicator, and a terrific thought partner. Blake holds a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Social Work from UNC. In addition to his position in Office of the Duke Forest, he has previously worked as a Community Development Manager for the Parkinson’s Foundation and as a Program Planning Consultant for the Community Empowerment Fund in Orange County. 

Although he will certainly be missed on the Duke Forest team, we’re grateful that Blake is staying within OCS to help drive the research and community partnership pillars of the Duke Climate Commitment. 


Katie and Sara

Nora Katie Douglas (she/her/hers)
Associate Director of Administration and Program Development
Office of Climate and Sustainability
Duke University

Sara DiBacco Childs, MEM(she/her/hers)
Executive Director, Office of the Duke Forest
Adjunct Instructor, Nicholas School of the Environment
(919) 613-8115 

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