By Gerard Flanagan, news writer/photographer/social media, Office of University Communications
CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. – A drive past Clay Hill Memorial Forest would seem to indicate the area is relatively unchanged since a devastating December tornado swept through, uprooting large amounts of trees and closing Clay Hill’s nearly five miles of hiking trails.
But, behind the scenes and out of sight, a great deal of work has been done to clean up the damage, according to Jonathan Moore, director of Clay Hill Memorial Forest.
“Just before Christmas I met with our Advisory Board to discuss how to address the tornado disturbance to the forest,” Moore said. “We discussed baseline principles for approaching management and then discussed management options.”
Moore said Clay Hill Memorial Forest’s approach “might be quite different” from the approach a private landowner would take. Clay Hill Memorial Forest’s operations are guided by the agreement made with the family who donated the land that would become Clay Hill Memorial Forest.
“It was their desire that the forest serve two purposes: conservation and education,” Moore said. “To those ends, the northern section of CHMF was designated as a nature preserve with limited human intervention and impact.
“The southern portion of CHMF was designated as managed woodland with an intent to demonstrate to landowners how to derive some income from the forest while preserving its ecology.”
In both sections, the primary focus has been management to preserve the ecology of the forest.
“Thus, our Advisory Board decided that our baseline principle for managing the tornado disturbed areas should be to only intervene in natural regeneration if exotic invasive species exploit the disturbance and have a negative impact,” Moore said.
Moore said the Advisory Board made the opening and safety of the forest’s trails a “foremost priority.”
“The trails of CHMF are its arteries,” Moore said. “They allow students to learn, research to be conducted and our community to enjoy being in nature, so the Advisory Board set opening and safety of our trails as a foremost priority.
“Indeed, CHMF staff has spent a lot of time and energy to clear our trails, but the results of this work are not easily visible from the road.”
Moore said he and the Advisory Board expect the trails to be open by early summer.
“A great deal of time was spent developing an appropriate plan and enlisting the right loggers to open and make our trails safe,” Moore said.
“Enlisting loggers and selling those logs of windthrown trees near trails and along roads and forest edges creates an opportunity for the work to be done by experts while minimizing management impact and producing some financial benefit to us,” he said.
According to Moore, scientific studies of management after wind disturbance often find better recovery with non-intervention. Removal of woody debris, the use of heavy equipment and salvage logging can have negative consequences for forest recovery, Moore said.
“Because of wet conditions during winter and spring, soil disturbance—an ecological negative and logistical problem for trails—is much more likely with heavy machinery, so work will likely accelerate around June this year,” Moore said.
Beyond natural debris, debris from nearby damaged homes and other structures was blown into Clay Hall Memorial Forest because of the tornado.
“We are working to remove this debris from the forest with the help of student volunteers,” Moore said. “Our local chapter of Sigma Zeta honor society sponsored a cleanup evening.
“Members of Sigma Zeta, Green Minds and the CU women’s wrestling team worked together to remove a substantial amount of trash from the forest–with unbridled enthusiasm.”
Moore said Clay Hill Memorial Forest has begun forming a network of scientists, who will assist in studying the effects of tornado disturbance on forest ecosystems and subsequent management.
“All research conducted in the nature preserve must be approved by the Advisory Board based on the value of the research and the level of impact it has on the forest,” Moore said. “The development of long-term research plots within the forest would be a great and rare opportunity for our students and faculty.
“We are playing the long game, taking our time and working hard (often behind the scenes) so that we can do the best we can to encourage forest recovery and make the most of the opportunities presented to us.”
Clay Hill’s Advisory Board consists of the following members: Moore, Alan Reed, retired superintendent of Adair County Schools; Angel Janes, chemistry teacher at Marion County High School in Lebanon;
Belinda Wilkins, forest ranger for the Kentucky Division of Forestry; Beverly McQueary, third grade teacher at Taylor County Intermediate School in Campbellsville; Brent Summers, associate professor of biology at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville, Ind.;
Cheryl May, librarian at Marion County Middle School in Lebanon; Christopher Mason, regional biologist at the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources; Eric Schlarb, archaeologist and director of Kentucky Lithic Analysis Services;
Lloyd Curry, community member and retired adoption specialist with the Commonwealth of Kentucky; Dr. Richard Kessler, professor of biology and environmental studies at Campbellsville University;
Stephanie Mogenhan, wildlife biology student at Oregon State University and granddaughter of Ted White, one of the two individuals who donated the land that would become Clay Hill Memorial Forest; Rob Collins Bell, community member and morning show host at Q 104.1, WCKQ;
Stephen Grayson, chief forester for the Kentucky Division of Forestry—Campbellsville Branch; Vanessa Kanaan, technical director at the Santa Catarina Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Brazil;
William Wallace Evans, retired agriculture teacher at Taylor County High School in Campbellsville; Ralph Thompson, emeritus professor of biology and chair in science at Berea College in Berea, Ky.; and Joe Whittaker, associate professor of biology and co-director of environmental and sustainability studies program at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn.
Campbellsville University is a widely acclaimed Kentucky-based Christian university that has enrolled up to 12,000 students yearly. The university offers over 100 programs of study including doctoral, masters, bachelors, associate and certification programs. The website for complete information is www.campbellsville.edu.