Forest Stewards Volunteer Program

Join a dedicated team of volunteers helping our staff to care for the dynamic Duke Forest land base and monitor the impacts of recreation!

Purpose: The Forest Stewards Program is a volunteer corps that provides the Duke Forest staff with additional support in stewarding the Forest for its important research, teaching, conservation, and community engagement missions. Forest Stewards commit to:

  • Walk a designated hiking route twice per month with a teammate.
  • Provide a visible, ambassador-like presence along their assigned route.
  • Promote positive recreational use by engaging with visitors in the Forest.
  • Report issues such as off-leash dogs, unauthorized trails, downed trees, etc.  
  • Occasionally participate in light stewardship and maintenance activities.

The Forest Stewards Program is in its early stages, and 2023 is just our second year running this program. Space is limited in order to keep the program to a manageable size for our staff. We encourage volunteers of all backgrounds and interests to apply.

Please read the program details in full and apply below!

Context & Impact: The Duke Forest is first and foremost a living laboratory and an outdoor classroom; however, many people only interact with the Duke Forest as a destination for recreation. While recreation is an ancillary benefit of the Forest’s existence and an important one to many community members, increased recreational use has led to unintended negative consequences that affect the Forest’s teaching, research, and stewardship goals. At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, when many flocked to outdoor spaces for respite from quarantine, we observed an exponential uptick in unauthorized activities and negative impacts, and we released a Recreational Impact Statement to raise awareness about the burden they place on the Duke Forest ecosystem and our small staff.

In 2022, we piloted the Forest Stewards Program to learn if engaging a group of passionate and proactive volunteers could provide useful, added capacity to our team’s efforts to protect the Duke Forest and all the incredible benefits it provides, including for recreation. The inaugural year was a success! It increased the capacity of our team, and importantly, it grew the community of folks that approach the Duke Forest with a sense of responsibility, accountability, and care for all it has to offer. We’re now excited to launch another season of the Forest Stewards Program in 2023.

Read more about the impact that Forest Steward volunteers had in the Duke Forest in 2022 at our blog post here and at The Duke Chronicle’s article here.

2023 Season Schedule

March 23Volunteer applications open.
Monday, April 3Volunteer applications due by end of day.
Friday, April 7Applicants are notified of acceptance.
Mid April – April 29Accepted Forest Steward volunteers must perform the required two activities, which can be done at their convenience/a time of their choosing.
1. Forest Steward volunteers must watch (and attest that they have completed in full) the Pre-Recorded Video Orientation. 
2. Forest Steward teammates must perform a “practice visit” to their assigned route.
Sunday, April 30 from 1-3pm Required, In-Person Orientation Training, led by Duke Forest staff in the Durham Division of the Duke Forest.
May – Sept 2023 Forest Stewards conduct monitoring visits to their assigned route twice each month (preferably every other week). 
Sunday, Oct 1The 2023 Forest Stewards season concludes. 

Time Commitment:

  • Together, 2 to 3 individuals commit to working as a team through the 6-month program.
  • At least 2 members of each Forest Steward team must walk their assigned route at least twice per month (aiming for every other week if possible).
  • Monitoring visits typically take 1.5-2 hours, plus the time required to submit data via Report and Time Card Forms.
  • Please note: Visit duration is subject to your individual hiking speed, the length of your assigned route, and the number of observations during a particular visit.

Who can apply to this program?

Volunteers must:

  • Be 18 years of age or older.
  • Be able to participate in the full season: early April 2023 to October 1, 2023.
  • Commit to complete/attend required trainings: All participants must view the pre-recorded video orientation, complete a practice a visit to their route, and attend the in-person orientation on Sunday, April 30 from 1-3pm.
  • Apply as a team: All applicants are required to apply with 1 to 2 partners/teammates. Each Forest Steward team will consist of 2-3 individuals in total. At least 2 members of a team must walk their assigned route.
    • Prior to filling out an application, potential teammates mutually agree to be paired with one another for the duration of the program. Each person then completes a separate application form, listing their partners’ names when prompted. 
  • Be able to spend an average of 1.5-2 hours per visit to assigned routes in the field and at home submitting data (you and your teammate will share this work).
  • Be able to walk on uneven surfaces for 1-3 miles (or more for longer routes). See our note about accessibility below.

Accessibility: Applicants will be asked in the volunteer application about their accessibility needs regarding mobility and hiking proficiency. Forest Stewards’ routes can range from easy to difficult for the average hiker. Most routes involve uneven walking surfaces — some with significant slopes, rock scrambles, and/or long distances. For those with less mobility, there may still be ways to contribute to this program! If you have concerns but would still like to participate, please share that in your volunteer application or reach out to Duke Forest staff at if you would like to discuss.

Please fill out the application linked below to indicate your desire to volunteer as a Forest Steward. This is an application and does not guarantee inclusion in the program.

Volunteer applications are due Monday, April 3, 2023 by the end of day.
Space is limited. We encourage you to apply early!

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