Receiving a lesson in area woodlands

Environment: A six-week course, culminating in a field trip, teaches about forestry management

May 16, 2004|By Anne Lauren Henslee | Anne Lauren Henslee,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Fifteen Harford County property owners hiked two hours through the woods near Broad Creek yesterday, identifying trees and taking note of the changing topography as they headed toward a valley and a rare find: a 30-acre stand of hemlock trees.

There, they came upon the second-largest hemlock in the state.

"It doesn't look very big, until you go down and stand next to it," said Mike Huneke, a forester from the state Department of Natural Resources, of the 400-year-old, 120-foot-tall tree.

Norrisville resident Nancy Bushover examined the hemlock's roots, which seemed to disappear into the water, and said, "I can't believe it's holding up."

Bushover and the others, all owners of wooded properties, were on a field trip ending a six-week course on woodland management. The course - sponsored by the University of Maryland's Cooperative Extension Service, the Harford County Forest Board and the Department of Natural Resources Forest Service - included information on tree identification, liability issues, wildlife, forest ecology and stewardship plans.

"About 38 percent of the county is forested, but the forests are in private hands and a lot of small holdings. Many of the people who own them are unaware of the value of the woodlands," said David Alm- quist, county extension director. "Not only can you harvest timber from wood, but you can also manage it for recreational purposes or manage it for wildlife enhancement. So, if you own the woods, we want to give you some things to think about."

Yesterday, Huneke led the group through the woods near Broad Creek, on a 400-acre, privately owned tract managed by the Boy Scouts.

Fallen timber - mostly remnants of Tropical Storm Isabel in the fall and a windstorm in the early 1990s - and moss-covered rocks at times blended into the terrain and served as evidence of the forest's constant regeneration. The stumps and lumber provide food and will become part of the soil as time passes.

"We learned that it's good to have dead trees," said Chris Williamson, who with her husband, Al, recently moved from Towson to Hickory, where they bought the former farm and home of C. Milton Wright. "You want the natural decay because the insects and birds all feed on it. And pretty soon it helps create a healthier environment."

The couple sold rental property they owned in Owings Mills and invested in 95 acres, mostly woods and farmland.

"Trees are a lot nicer to deal with," Chris Williamson said of the couple's decision.

"We wanted something that we can have fun with," her husband said. "You see it, touch it. You can't do that with stocks."

The course has taught them to modify the way they manage their new investment property and the 10 acres they live on nearby.

Bushover, the Norrisville woman, and her husband, Amos, took the course to help decide what to do with their 30 acres.

"After taking the classes, we've decided we're probably going to leave it alone because of our topography," she said.

Butch Bachman understands the desire to plan ahead. Bachman lives in Fallston, on a 69-acre farm his family has owned for a century. About 15 acres are wooded.

"I took the course to see what I could do differently," Bachman said while walking alongside his son, Andy, who runs a greenhouse on his family's farm and also attended the classes.

They are looking for ways to better manage their property, which is surrounded by residential developments.

"You wonder sometimes if years down the road we'll be forced out," Bachman said. "With developments all around us, we get our fair share of trespassers. When you have an open piece of land behind your house, it's considered a park to some people."

Susan and Sam Peverley live on a 350-acre farm in Churchville, not far from Harford Community College. Although their farm is mostly crops, they also own about 700 acres of woodland in Virginia and Delaware.

Beverly Leach owns 30 acres in Havre de Grace, with a driveway about a quarter-mile long that leads to her home surrounded by forest. Having taken the course, Leach, who used to live in the Brooklyn area of Baltimore, said, "Now I'm out in my property, identifying trees."

Debbie Wrogel enrolled in the class to help her in her work as an environmental coordinator for Harford Community College.

"I've learned a ton," Wrogel said. "It's about understanding what the trees are doing on your property and the values that they bring, depending on what you want to do, and then conserving and managing according to that."

Wrogel will be developing a plan for 100 acres of woodland along Thomas Run Road that were donated to the college.

"Now I know where to go and how to start looking. I've learned how to start thinking about forests from the perspective of a forester," she said.

Wrogel said the course also gave her ideas about managing the third of an acre she lives on in Forest Hill.

"We've always brought a lot of trees in, but if I knew nine years ago what I've learned now, I might have done things a little differently," she said.

Almquist, who took part in the group's excursion, is pleased with the response to the course, which he hopes to offer again.

"We hope they learned the need for a stewardship plan," he said. "In other words, if you have a forest, you can contact the Forest Service or a private forester to help you make a plan that would suit what you want to do with the forest."

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