Published: Nov 27, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Nov 27, 2012 06:58 PM
Whether it’s a crisp, autumn stroll underneath the changing maple leaves or an early spring jog past familiar pines, Duke Forest draws more than 170,000 recreational visits per year. The forest is an oasis for outdoor recreation on the doorstep of an urban environment. However, some unintended, negative consequences have become more prevalent.
The most popular destination in Duke Forest is the trail system along New Hope Creek in the Korstian Division. Many of these trails fall within a Significant Natural Heritage Area (SNHA) because of the unique animals and diverse plant communities that are present. Identified by the N.C. Natural Heritage Program, this area is one of 12 SNHAs in Duke Forest that are set aside from harvesting and regularly monitored to ensure their protection.
Unfortunately, the combination of heavy foot traffic, off-trail use, and a lack of proper signs has led to severe erosion and ecological disturbance in several areas within the New Hope Creek SNHA. Most users share the familiar experience of staring down at their feet rather than taking in the sights and sounds of the creek to avoid tripping over exposed tree roots. It is also not uncommon to find soil and sediment chutes leading directly into the creek.
These problems are compounded by the fact that none of the trails were intentionally developed and designed to withstand long-term use. Given these conditions, the trails are extremely difficult to maintain. Without attention, they will continue to degrade, resulting in more negative impacts to the ecosystem and increasing hazards for users.
To address these issues, Duke Forest will implement a trail rehabilitation and ecosystem restoration project along the south banks of the New Hope Creek trail system – a high priority area because of the unique Rhododendron Bluffs found here. Planning for this project has been an extensive and thorough process. Since March of 2012, Duke Forest has engaged local forest users and natural resource experts to discuss the project, its design, and its implications for both the environment and for recreation. It has also worked closely with Stewart Bryan of Native Trails Inc., a local trail contractor who has been instrumental in creating the design and who will be responsible for much of the on-the-ground work.
Through these collaborative efforts, Duke Forest has finalized a plan that it hopes will provide long-lasting, effective protection of the area’s natural resources while enhancing the recreational user’s experience. The first phase of the project will focus on the Rhododendron Bluff area, and Phase 2 will extend further downstream toward the Slick Hill Foot Trail. The work is scheduled to begin in January 2013.
Unsafe and eroded trails will be closed to create new, official trails that traverse a greater mix of forest types; other trails will be rehabilitated or rerouted – all will continue to provide access to New Hope Creek and the popular bluff rocks that overlook it.
Signs to announce the project will be posted soon, and new trail blazes and other educational information will be installed as the project unfolds. Users can support this effort to protect the environment and improve their trail experience by following all posted signs, staying on authorized trails, and keeping dogs on a leash. To learn more about the project or to comment, please visit: dukeforestproject.wordpress.com
.Sara Childs is the Duke Forest program director, and Betsy Cook is the Duke Forest student assistant.
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