Bent Creek Experimental Forest is a unique resource for research and recreation to local Ashevillians and visitors alike. Most Asheville residents refer to the recreation aspect of Bent Creek. Presumably, Bent Creek’s notoriety stems from the opportunity to mountain bike 15 minutes from downtown Asheville. Not to mention, forty-four miles of trails, the Lake Powhatan Recreation Area, and North Carolina Arboretum are all located within the Bent Creek boundaries. However, the official website of North Carolina’s National Forests informs that Bent Creek’s primary purpose is researching lands that are recovering from deforestation or abuse.
The Laboratory, a lure for foresters
While recreation at Bent Creek is a lure to Asheville’s outdoor enthusiasts, the experimental forest is first a living laboratory – a research and training center for foresters and researchers. Bent Creek is part of the Upland Hardwood Ecology & Management research unit of the USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS), which is headquartered in Asheville. Established in 1925, Bent Creek is one of 19 experimental forests managed by SRS across the South. Bent Creek is the oldest experimental forest east of the Mississippi River and the third oldest in the nation.
Scientists at Bent Creek Experimental Forest currently study oak ecosystem restoration, hardwood regeneration, fire ecology, timber growth and yield, forest stand dynamics, acorn and native forest fruit production, invasive plant species, American chestnut restoration, ecosystem classification, and wildlife response to forest management practices.
The Southern Research Station headquarters is located off W.T. Weaver Boulevard. Taken by Kristina Toombs
Reviving Oaks; Regenerating Hardwoods
While young saplings battle for space within the forest canopy, certain species may have advantage over others after an ecosystem has been disturbed. The following passage, taken from a Compass article by Stevin Westcott and found online found online,
By the 1960s, it was clear to researchers that yellow-poplar would almost always outgrow oak on good-quality sites.”
Westcott continues to point out the valuable research results from Bent Creek,
…it’s possible that Bent Creek’s most significant legacy could be its long-term data sets, established largely to document growth and yield and regeneration. These volumes of information, used by scientists of yesterday and today, could be key in understanding climate change and other environmental crises facing the United States in the future.”
The Laborers of the Lands
Behind-the-scenes at Bent Creek you will find David Loftis. Starting out as a graduate student in 1972, Loftis was former project leader at Bent Creek, and developed a prediction model for hardwood regeneration for the Southern Appalachians called REGEN. Loftis is now a research forester of the SRS research unit. Katie Greenberg is a project leader and research ecologist at the experimental forest. She studies wildlife populations and their responses to management practices.
The Bent Creek Experimental Forest is off Route 191 south of Asheville, North Carolina.
For more info: visit the Southern Research Station website.
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