Published On: Wed, May 7th, 2014

Forestry students get hands-on experience at NRAO

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Forestry students at Pocahontas County High School cut down hundreds of white pine trees on National Radio Astronomy Observatory land. The timber was purchased by Judy’s Fencecraft in Bartow. Work on the reforestation project is expected to continue through 2017. Photo courtesy of Mike Holstine

Forestry students at Pocahontas County High School cut down hundreds of white pine trees on National Radio Astronomy Observatory land. The timber was purchased by Judy’s Fencecraft in Bartow. Work on the reforestation project is expected to continue through 2017. Photo courtesy of Mike Holstine

Fifty years ago, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Green Bank planted a large number of white pines on its land to block RFI – Radio Frequency Interference – caused by motor vehicles.

While the trees did the trick and protected the telescopes from interference, they have gotten shabby and dangerous, which more evident during the derecho two years ago.

NRAO Business manager Mike Holstine said that after the storm, the NRAO came up with a plan to safely remove the trees and replant the area.

“About a year ago, what I decided to do was talk to the forestry class at the high school and see if they were interested in doing a management program,” Holstine said. “I thought it would be a really good educational program for them - over multi-years – to take it from beginning to end.”

The class wasn’t able to do the project last year, so this school year, the students created a harvest and reforestation plan.

“It entailed coming up with the timetable to do the whole thing,” forestry education teacher Scott Garber said. “Obviously one of the biggest considerations was to do it in class, so it’s going to take an extended period of time – five or six years to do it. We also had to do the timetable with the school year – when to plant trees, when not to plant trees.”

The class put the job out to bid and Judy’s Fencecraft in Bartow, was the successful bidder. Some of the more “high risk” trees – those close to the road and power lines – were cut by Mick’s Logging.

Foresters at Judy’s Fencecraft will assist the students with the project, giving them the opportunity to work alongside professionals.

“The plan is, we’re going to do the front half first and then they’re going to replant,” Holstine said. “Once those trees get to a sufficient height and really, six to eight feet is really all we need. I’m going to have them top the trees, that top growth, that will cause the trees to bush instead of just grow straight up.”

This will re-establish protection for the telescopes, as well as keep the trees at a more manageable size.

All money earned from the timber, minus the cost of new tress, will go to the forestry program at Pocahontas County High School.

Although the forestry program has done several hands-on projects in the past, Garber said he has never seen one of this scale.

“Mr. [Mike] Burns had several projects and I think he did some for Alfred Dilley and the scout camp,” Garber said. “But, as far as number of acres and length of time, this is the largest project the program has ever had.”

The current harvesting class has 10 members and Garber said that is an ideal size for a project like this.

“That’s all that’s going to work, ten students, but that’s been my average the past four years, so it will be a total of fifty kids by the time it’s completed,” he said. “We’re actually going to [cruise] it while we’re cutting. I’m going to have half the class cruising it while the other half harvests the trees. Everybody will get a chance to do both to see what the volume is.”

Garber said he is glad to have the opportunity to have an on-going project like this with his class, and the funding doesn’t hurt, either.

“It’s not cheap to have tractor tires and the sawmill and other items for the program,” he said. “We got the new handhelds this past year with the cruising and mapping program. It will help us with that. Technology – it never stops changing.”

With two local businesses and one high school class working together, the project has been a successful collaboration that will continue for several years.

“I just think it’s been great,” Holstine said. “The kids have loved it. It’s a win/win situation for everybody. Judy’s is getting the timber that they want. The school – it’s a great educational program for them and, we’re getting our RFI buffer back.”

The plan calls for the reforestation process to continue into 2017.

Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at sastewart@pocahontastimes.com

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