Signs point to growth at Hoke community forest

Home News Signs point to growth at Hoke community forest
By Catharin Shepard • Editor • New trail markers at the Hoke Community Forest will help guide the way for hikers, bikers and horseback riders as part of planned improvements to make the public land more inviting.

Hoke residents have hiking trails just off of Vass Road at one of the southeast’s only community forests. Work has been ongoing at the community forest for the past several years. Efforts to thin out and, in some locations, clear cut non-native trees have progressed with planting of thousands of native long-leaf pine trees. Controlled burns to clear out the underbrush and provide a healthy habitat on the 532-acre property are also part of the process.

It’s called silviculture: the theory and practice of controlling forest establishment, composition and growth, forestry expert Rob Drummond explained. Right now, the efforts are to slowly replace the non-native trees with multiple plantings of longleaf pine.


“We try to manipulate the forest from an even-aged loblolly (pine) plantation, to an uneven aged longleaf stand,” Drummond said.

Making that conversion is difficult, and working with longleaf pine is a unique challenge, according to Jesse Wimberley of the Sandhills Prescribed Burn Association. Wimberley and Drummond have been working together with a steering committee, and funders to help manage the project.

What they’re hoping to do now, along with Sandhills PBA community engagement coordinator Courtney Steed, is make more people aware that the community forest is a place that anyone can enjoy.

The next step in the process at the community forest is debuting a brand-new trail map of the property. The map includes one-mile, two-mile and three-mile looping hiking trail paths suitable for walking, biking or horseback riding. This past weekend, local scout troops went out into the forest to help put up trail markers to make the paths more accessible for people who might want to use them.

“That’s the missing piece, is the invitation to the community,” Wimberley said.

They are already seeing an increase in foot traffic of hikers and bikers, Steed said, and hopes that the new signage will help even more.

“That’s where we feel like the signage is so important,” Steed said.

“All the work we’ve been able to do to put restoration in motion is something that people need to see,” Wimberley said.

The land is under a protective conservation easement. Wildlife calls the forest home; recently, Drummond startled a wild turkey hen off a nest of eggs. The work at the forest has also included planted native wire grass as part of restoring the native ecosystem.

“We hope to continue to do prescribed burning, which is going to be really critical. Longleaf is what they call a fire-dependent species, it really thrives in a fire ecosystem. Fire kills the competition and allows the longleaf to kind of grow up there, that’s kind of the goal of it,” Drummond said.

Longleaf pine is native to Hoke County and the Sandhills. There are stands of it all through the county, and even the city. The longleaf pine trees around the Hoke Public Library on Main Street are an example of an old longleaf forest, and those trees could be upwards of 300 or 400 years old, Wimberley pointed out.

Hoke County has owned the property since 2013. The community forest land once belonged to the International Paper Company, which cut many of the native trees and planted loblolly pine as a crop for making paper. The nonprofit Conservation Fund bought the land from the company, then worked to obtain grants to help Hoke County purchase the property.

For more information about the Hoke Community Forest, contact community engagement coordinator Courtney Steed at seasteed84@gmail.com, or call (910) 431-2860.

 

 

 

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