A Forest Runs Through It

schenck forest

Green spaces such as parks, gardens and
forests are emerging as essential tools to improve public health and address
environmental challenges in communities worldwide, especially in metro
areas with extensive urban sprawl. These spaces not only
facilitate physical activity but also filter out harmful air pollution
and provide habitat for wildlife.

In Raleigh, where the population
has grown faster than nearly any other major American municipality in the past
decade, city dwellers who are weary of the concrete jungle can enjoy more than
9,000 acres of green space, including NC State’s Carl Alwin Schenck Memorial
Forest.

The forest, which is more commonly known
as “Schenck,” is a 245-acre property located just 10
minutes from the university’s main campus and about eight miles from downtown
Raleigh.

Since its establishment, Schenck has
been managed by the College of Natural Resources as a teaching and research
site where students learn about forest management and the associated benefits,
ranging from water quality to wildlife to carbon sequestration. It has also
become a popular recreation spot for Raleigh residents who enjoy its walking
trails and picnic areas.

“The Schenck is somewhat of a hidden gem, and it holds a place in the hearts of the faculty, students and neighbors that frequent it,” said Elizabeth Snider, a 2005 Master of Forestry alumna and current Forest Manager at the College of Natural Resources.    

Planting the Seeds

Before it was a popular outdoor
destination, the land where Schenck now sits was once part of North Carolina’s
Camp Polk Prison Farm.

In 1937, the state turned over a
portion of the farm to NC State University, according to Snider. The university
subsequently named the property, “Richlands Creek Forest,” and planted 92 acres
of loblolly pine.

Nearly two decades later, the university renamed the forest in memory of Dr. Carl Schenck, the founder of the Biltmore Forest School, the country’s first practical forestry school. Schenck’s ashes were scattered in the forest following his death that year, and a bronze memorial plaque was installed and mounted on a granite boulder near a picnic area.

Today, Schenck Forest plays a vital
role as an outdoor laboratory for a number of academic programs including
forestry, botany, mycology, ecology, soils, recreation and wildlife biology,
according to Snider. The forest hosts multiple classes and active research
projects, including tree growth, genetics, hydrology, soils, and wildlife and
habitat monitoring.

Schenck, which is open to the public
during daylight hours, also features a teaching arboretum and several walking
trails that allow the college to educate the public about forest management
practices. Some trails even pass through sites where a variety of these
practices can be observed firsthand, including an upcoming timber harvest that
aims to restore one of North Carolina’s most endangered tree species.

Saving a Species

Beginning next year, the college will
harvest approximately 23 acres of timber from Schenck, accounting for less than
one-tenth of the forest. It is the first of several operations that the college
plans to conduct at Schenck in the coming years, including a thinning to
prevent insect outbreaks.

Snider said the upcoming harvests will begin
to restore the health and balance of the forest habitats, and ultimately
improve the diversity of teaching opportunities for students. All proceeds from
any resulting timber sales will go to support the continued management of the
forest for education and demonstration purposes.

“Once the
harvest is complete, the Schenck Forest will remain a quality outdoor
classroom, a healthy and thriving habitat for wildlife, and a beautiful place
to walk in the woods,” Snider said. “It will also become a refuge to one of
North Carolina’s most endangered forest communities — the longleaf pine.”

First identified as a species in 1768, longleaf pine ​(Pinus palustris) i​s an evergreen conifer with thick, scaly bark and needle-like leaves. The species once covered an estimated 90 million acres across the southern United States but now only covers a fraction of its original range — 4.3 million acres, to be exact. The reason behind this decline involves many factors, including land-use change and fire suppression.

Longleaf pine is the longest lived of the southern pine species. Throughout most of its range, individual longleaf pines can reach 250 years in age. This photo depicts a juvenile planted several years ago at Schenck Forest. Photo by Andrew Moore.

Snider and other members of the college’s forest management team plan to
conduct a prescribed burn after the harvest to prepare the site for longleaf pine and to reduce loblolly
and hardwood competition. They will then plant approximately 17 acres with
Longleaf pine seedlings in an effort towards restoring this important tree
species. The remaining six acres will be harvested for the regeneration of shortleaf
pine.

While there may
be some initial disruption to animals in the affected areas, the harvest is
expected to enhance wildlife habitat within the first three years of its
completion, according to Snider. In fact, much of Raleigh’s native wildlife
(whitetail deer, turkey, quail, woodcock, etc.) actually prefer disturbance and
early successional forests. These habitats provide forage, shelter and refuge
for animals.

“The College
of Natural Resources is excited about the many ways that Schenck Forest will
continue to benefit the community and contribute to the quality education of
the next generation of responsible and skilled foresters,” Snider concluded.  

For more information about the harvest,
please contact NC State’s Forest Assets Management Team at (919) 515-7321 or cnr_forests@ncsu.edu.