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 supports the Duke Forest staff in monitoring and stewarding the Forest for its important research, teaching, conservation, and community engagement missions. Forest Stewards do this by:

  • Walking a designated hiking route twice per month with a teammate.
  • Providing a visible, ambassador-like presence along their assigned route.
  • Promoting positive recreational use by engaging with visitors in the Forest.
  • Reporting issues such as off-leash dogs, unauthorized trails, downed trees, etc.  
  • Occasionally participating in light maintenance activities.

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, growing recreational visitation has led to unintended negative consequences that affect the Forest’s teaching, research, and stewardship goals. For example, 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, as illustrated in our blog post here and at The Duke Chronicle’s article here. 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. Forest Stewards is now a core volunteer program at the Duke Forest.

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 Volunteer Timecard and Report Forms.
    • Please note: Visit duration is subject to individual hiking speed, the length of the assigned route, and the number of observations to report to Duke Forest staff during a particular visit.

2024 Season Schedule

Wednesday, April 24Volunteers are notified of acceptance into the program.
Late AprilNew* Forest Stewards must watch a Pre-Recorded Video Orientation.
*If you are new or have not participated in the Forest Steward Program within the past year (April 2023 onward), you are required to watch this video orientation. For returning volunteers who participated in 2023, this training is optional.

New Forest Stewards are also encouraged to perform an optional “practice visit” to their assigned route with their teammate in advance of the In-Person Training in May.
Early MayMandatory, In-Person Orientation Training, led by Duke Forest staff in the Durham Division of the Duke Forest.
May – Sept 2024 Forest Steward teammates conduct monitoring visits to their assigned route twice each month (preferably every other week). 
Sunday, Sept 29The 2024 Forest Stewards season concludes. 

Who can apply to this program?

Volunteers must:

  • Be 18 years of age or older. (Minors may be able to participate with a parent/guardian but must reach out to for advanced consideration.)
  • Be able to participate in the full season: May through September 2024.
  • Commit to complete/attend required trainings (see details in the program schedule above).
  • 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. 
    • We do not allow pets (other than service animals) to participate in Forest Steward teams.
  • 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.

2024 is our third year running the Forest Stewards program. To keep the program to a manageable size for our staff, we are limiting participation to former Forest Stewards and to volunteers who directly expressed interest in the program in 2023. We hope to expand the program in the future. Thank you for your understanding.

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