|By Drew Tucker, communications assistant|
CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. – Campbellsville University students, faculty, and staff recently gathered at Clay Hill Memorial Forest to watch a prescribed burn of the native wildflower and warm season grass plot.
Clay Hill Memorial Forest is a 158-acre regional center for environmental education and research on eastern deciduous forests managed by Campbellsville University.
“It’s a big part of our science division,” said Otto Tennant, vice president for finance and administration.
A prescribed burn is a management tool used to maintain the prairie grasses surrounding the forest.
“Fire is still a management tool,” Chris Mason, a private lands wildlife biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, said regarding the prescribed burn.
“We have to burn the native grass fields regularly due to the trees spreading,” Dr. Gordon Weddle, professor of biology at CU and director of CHMF, said.
“The burning promotes the health of the ecosystem,” Spencer Adams, technical writer at CU and founder of Green Minds, said. “If you do not burn, the native grasslands will revert back to a forest due to our regional climate and environmental conditions. Native warm season grasses and native wild flowers are resilient to fire, where, on the other hand, the invading tree saplings are not. The end result is a healthier ecosystem that promotes biodiversity”.
Mason said fire has been used as a management for thousands of years – whether it was caused by lightning hitting the ground or Native Americans living off the land before America was colonized.
“We try to mimic natural processes at much as possible,” Weddle said.
Weddle said the prescribed burn happens on a 3-4 year rotation due to seeds being released during the burning, causing trees to come back.
Additional burnings happen in the fall and spring to promote wild flowers and grasses, respectively.
Mason and his crew members, Zeb Weese, Clint Abney and Todd Gupton burned a portion of the grass plot, but due the high humidity, had to cut the burning short.
Green Minds, an environmental club at CU, which has a primary mission of helping students build connections with nature, came to CHMF to help Weddle, Dr. Richie Kessler, associate professor of biology and environmental studies program coordinator, and the staff with the mulching of CHMF’s wild flower garden.
“We helped mulch over 100 native wild flowers,” Adams said. “Mulching flowers before winter helps the survival of the plants because it prevents moisture loss and maintains a relatively constant temperature range for the soil below.”
Campbellsville University biology majors, chemistry majors plus pre-dental, pre-engineering, pre-medical, pre-medical technology, pre-nursing, pre-optometry, pre-pharmacy and pre-veterinarian students are among those who experience CHMF as a part of their career preparation courses.
It is central to the university’s growing green and earth stewardship movements and is a regional center for environmental education available to non-science and general education students as well. Over 35,000 local elementary, middle and high school students have visited CHMF on field trips since it was donated to Campbellsville University in 1996 in memory of the Joan White Howell family.
CHMF can be used by public and private educational institutions as an outdoor laboratory and teaching resource. Farmers can also look at management strategies being used at the forest. It is located at 7426 Old Lebanon Road, Campbellsville, Ky.
Campbellsville University is a widely acclaimed Kentucky-based Christian university with more than 3,600 students offering 63 undergraduate options, 17 master’s degrees, five postgraduate areas and eight pre-professional programs. The website for complete information is campbellsville.edu.