by Kyle Obermiller
Earlier this week, I spent an entire workday by myself at White Pines Nature Preserve in Chatham County, and by the end of the day, my handheld GPS unit had logged 7.5 total miles of walking. This trip continued my mega-monitoring-Monday extravaganza, designed to complete routine maintenance of the hiking trails on our preserves. I bet you’re reading this and thinking, “this guy is lucky to get to spend the whole day exploring in the woods.” Well, I’d have to say you’re right!
When I started my job with TLC in May, getting to know our owned properties and the important features of each one was a top priority. Once I figured out the correct pronunciation of Chatham, I began to explore the true meaning of why the White Pines property located there is so special. When someone spoke of white pine trees, my first thought was of those trees behind the barn where I grew up, the same that fell onto our family car and farm truck on July 4th many years ago. However, after a while it became clear to me why TLC made this a flagship property, and why they found it important enough to start a multi-year ecosystem restoration effort to ensure the survival of this disjunct tree population.
Starting at the small parking area, my tasks for the day included walking the 275-acre preserve’s three miles of trails to cut back overgrowth, as well as the property boundaries for any signs of encroachment or issues on neighboring lands. My blaze-orange vest and orange toboggan kept me warm in the cool air of the morning. I set out down the path, heading down the River Trail towards the Old Cable Bridge. As I dropped from the 350-foot elevation of the parking lot down to the Rocky River at a 200 foot elevation, the temperature became dramatically cooler. I went from an upland hardwood, dropping acorns by the hundreds on my head, down into Piedmont bottomland forests where there are several stands of native white pines. The steep bluffs down to the junction of the Rocky River and the Deep River create a microclimate where the temperature can be as much as 10 degrees lower than the surrounding area, allowing species more common in the cooler mountains to be happily established in the area. Scientists say that during the last Ice Age, some 10,000 years ago, the Piedmont’s climate was cool enough to sustain these species. While most species retreated with the warming temperatures, this amazing microclimate sheltered the giant White Pines .
With much of the excitement in my job centered on Horton Grove Nature Preserve and the grand opening of its new trails in early December, I ask you not to forget to enjoy our other lands. Thus, I invite you to come on down to White Pines Nature Preserve and take a walk among the giants. Speaking of giants, stay tuned for my next edition of The Dirt: Tales from the Field, when I explore “trees that miss the mammoths!”