Celebrating Woodlands

Mar 24, 2014

Credit Courtesy of The Montpelier Foundation

There’s a big weekend ahead for those who love trees, with a Historic Tree symposium in Charlottesville, a lecture in Blacksburg, and an Old Growth Forest walk at Montpelier.

James Madison’s family thought nothing of clearing the woods around their plantation in 1723.  In fact, most Americans viewed trees as an impediment to farming, but a convenient source of building materials and food.  Later in life, Madison would come to regret that view.  Horticulturist Sandy Mudrinich reads what he had to say on the subject.

“Of all the errors in our rural economy, none is perhaps so much to be regretted, because none is so difficult to repair as the injudicious and excessive destruction of timber and firewood.  It seems never to have occurred that the fund was not inexhaustible and that a crop of trees could not be raised as quickly as a crop of wheat or corn.”

And since the mid 1800’s, 200 acres of forest around Madison’s home, Montpelier, have been left to recover.  Today, Mudrinich says, the tulip trees have grown tall.

“They are the tallest deciduous tree, meaning they lose their leaves in winter, in all of North America, and the ones that we’re seeing in front of us – the tallest trees – will average about 150 feet.”
And some white oaks are quite old.

“We have one that fell in 2006 that we dated back to 336 years ago.  That’s 1670 when that tree started growing.”

The National Park Service has declared Madison’s forest a natural landmark, but Mudrinich worries.  Woodlands in Virginia are under attack from pollution, disease, invasive plants and developers.  As the trees are lost, certain insects disappear, and that causes a chain reaction.

“Birds rely on grubs and caterpillars while they’re nesting – that’s all they eat, that’s all they feed their babies, so if they can’t get those caterpillars, because the caterpillars can’t find the trees that they prefer, you lose your birds.”  But at Montpelier and in other parts of the state, foresters are working to protect trees and will celebrate them this weekend in Charlottesville.  The Historic Tree Symposium is Sunday, April 6th at St. Anne's-Belfield School, and the public is invited to visit the James Madison Landmark Forest year round.

"We have a brochure available people can use as a guide.  We have plenty of signage so you cannot get lost, and we even have iPods that you can carry with you, that will give you a story of the forest, so you can have a self-guided tour, or you can come four times a year when we have the big woods walk.  The next one is coming up April 6th.”

The following weekend visitors can come to the Working Woods Walk to learn how to care for their own forests. And  Friday,  April 4th, Joan Maloof – Founder of the Old Growth Forest Network – speaks at Fralin Auditorium in Blacksburg.