Thursday, May 15, 2014
This spring, the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission (CCPRC) hosted a land management educational program at the future McClellanville County Park, one of the agency’s undeveloped park properties. Wildlife and forestry students from Horry Georgetown Technical College (HGTC) worked directly with area elementary school students to plant tree seedlings at the 813-acre future park property located off Hwy. 17N, south of downtown McClellanville.
About 30 elementary students from Cape Romain Environmental Education Charter School (CREECS) worked with the college students to plant longleaf pine, live oak, crabapple, persimmon, red bud, dogwood and eastern red cedar seedlings.
HGTC wildlife and forestry professor Jim Westerhold purchased the seedlings from the South Carolina Forestry Commission. “Students will have the opportunity to observe these trees as they grow, and may someday share this experience with their children or grandchildren,” said Westerhold. The park is still years away from being open to the public, but it is his hope that CREECS students may return to their local county park and see trees that they planted.
Natural resource managers from CCPRC were also on hand to explain the importance of tree planting and active land management. The fruit trees and hard mast producers planted as part of this effort will offer more food options for wildlife. Additionally, planting longleaf pine helps to reestablish one of the Southeast’s most characteristic plant species.
Matt Moldenhauer, CCPRC’s Land Resource manager, oversees the site’s longleaf pine restoration efforts. “When CCPRC acquired the McClellanville property in 2008, it held close to 752 acres of densely planted loblolly pine. Through consultation with professional foresters and researchers, we’re now reestablishing 24 acres in longleaf pine, with plans for much more.” CCPRC is already working to restore longleaf pine on several other properties throughout Charleston County.
WHY LONGLEAF PINE?
In addition to being one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in North America, between the early 1700s and early 1900s, longleaf pine also played an important role in the development of the southeastern U.S. Its high quality resin was extracted and used by the naval stores industry for pitch, tar, turpentine and gum products used to seal the hulls of ships. Its range once covered an estimated 90 million acres between Virginia and Texas; by the early 1900s, the species only inhabited 3 percent of its original range as a result of overexploitation. The future McClellanville County Park property is within the historical range of longleaf pine, but was likely converted to loblolly pine in favor of higher production.
CCPRC staff and HGTC students and faculty worked together to explain the value of managing native plant communities. The college students reflected on their experiences working with CREECS, saying that the elementary-age students were “... surprised at how slowly trees grew. It showed them the importance of planting and taking care of these seedlings.” HGTC students also gained practical experience by planting the seedlings. “This is a real-life land management experience for our students and something they’ll be able to apply in their professional career,” said Westerhold.
Similarly, CREECS teacher Hayley Leland sees the relevance for her students. “Planting trees is such an important learning experience for our students,” said Leland. “They become familiar with native trees that supply food to wildlife at various times of the year, and the hands-on approach helps them better understand what it takes to manage a forest. Plus, this field experience fits directly into fourth-grade science standards, which cover ecosystems, adaptations and animal and plant behavior. This was a great real-life connection to our science curriculum. Lastly, our students love it!”
It could be several years before the future McClellanville County Park is open to public use; however, opportunities like this planting project may soon become more available to the public. Managers within CCPRC’s Planning and Resource Management Division also see this time of limited use as an opportunity to establish a regular management regimen for the property’s natural resources. “It is imperative that we actively manage the natural resources within our park facilities, even when the property becomes available for public use,” said Moldenhauer. CCPRC’s Caw Caw Interpretive Center has been actively managed since the facility opened in early 2000, and is well regarded as one of the most diverse collections of habitat in the South Carolina Lowcountry.