Be Careful What You Ask For
by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator
I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!
Across the nation, parks, trails, camp grounds and other outdoor recreation destinations are under unprecedented pressure. Restrictions to normal everyday activities has pushed people to use the resources we have always wanted them to utilize. This edition of the Nine Minute Naturalist will veer towards the philosophical as we discuss the problems associated with getting what we have always desired…for people to truly value and appreciate everything the great outdoors has to offer.
As an organization built upon conservation and education, The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen seeks to get people out into nature and build a mass that understands and appreciates the uniqueness of Wintergreen and the Blue Ridge Mountains. We lead weekly hikes, education programs in schools, and conduct research throughout the year in order to bring knowledge and awareness of the natural world. Yet in a time of shutdowns and restrictions, masses have come to see outdoor recreation as a key new component to their daily lives. The trails at Wintergreen have absolutely proven to be one of the most valuable resources available to guests and property owners. This newfound interest in our resources is what we have been trying to sell from the beginning…that Wintergreen’s greatest asset is the environment. That brings us to the question of how to manage the resources properly now that we have received all we could have asked for and more.
The positive news is that we have a great resource of past trail studies to be able to identify problem areas and where to allocate time and resources. In 2016-17, TNFW summer interns studied trail use across Wintergreen to figure out how and when our trails were used. This study has been used to compare that year-long period to numbers we are seeing now. Although much less time has been spent on trail counts this summer, the numbers indicate a 2x to 10x increase in usage along our trail system. For instance, the Shamokin Springs Nature Preserve averaged 60 users per week in 2016-17. More than 60 users were recorded in one weekend day this year. At Paul’s Creek Trail, it has become commonplace to count 6-10 cars in the cul-de-sac any day from 10am-4pm. Another study was done this summer to get a baseline for trail depreciation that can be replicated any given time to measure the impact of human use on the trails. The findings were predictable but enlightening at the same time. Our trails of greatest depreciation are the trails of greatest use – Paul’s Creek, Upper Shamokin Falls, and Highlands Leisure Trail. This study will offer a baseline for how to interpret impacts on the Wintergreen trails for years to come.
I don’t pretend to have an answer for the questions brought about by the surge in use on the resources at Wintergreen. I do know that I love the fact people desire to get into the environment and have come to appreciate our many resources. I also know that TNFW is ready to conserve and protect the resources to the best of our ability.