Timber stand improvement project scheduled for Hitchcock Woods in September

August 25, 2018

In a place known for its beauty and tranquility, trucks and other heavy equipment will be rumbling and rolling around soon.

A timber stand improvement project is scheduled to take place in Aiken’s Hitchcock Woods in September.

It will involve primarily the selective thinning of small trees and the removal of underbrush from an approximately 70-acre area near Ridge Mile Track.

Beech Island Timber & Construction is the contractor, and the work is expected to take several weeks to complete.

It will be part of the Hitchcock Woods Foundation’s continuing effort to restore and maintain the longleaf pine ecosystem in one of the nation’s largest urban forests.

“When we’ve done something like this in the past, a lot of people have been confused,” said Woods Superintendent Bennett Tucker. “They hear us say, ‘longleaf restoration,’ and they think we’re cutting down all the hardwoods so that everything left will be longleaf. But that’s not true. Basically, we’ll just be enhancing what we already have.”

The trees that will be taken out will include those damaged by an ice storm in 2014 and others whose growth has been stunted for various reasons.

They are marked with blue daubs of paint.

The big, healthy hickories, magnolias, scarlet oaks and loblolly pines won’t be touched because diversity is important. Even when the longleaf was the dominant tree locally hundreds of years ago, other species were sprinkled throughout the landscape.

“It was kind like a mosaic,” Tucker said.

Without a blend of trees, native animals such as fox squirrels would disappear.

“That’s why we want diversity,” Tucker said.

Getting rid of stunted and damaged trees and underbrush will allow more sunlight to reach the forest floor. As result, Tucker explained, lower-growing plants like the white-topped aster and goldenrod that occur in Hitchcock Woods naturally will be able to flourish.

“The better ground cover benefits the wildlife,” he said.

Beech Island Timber has machinery that will turn the underbrush and small trees removed during the timber stand improvement project into fuel chips that will be hauled away and sold to a nearby biomass cogeneration facility, where they will be used to produce energy.

“The fuel chipping operation will be very clean,” Tucker said. “They will take everything they can and send it through the chipper so there will be no big limbs left behind. Everything will go away except for some leaves and twigs. At the end, we’ll pile those up and burn them to get rid of them.”

Some trails in Hitchcock Woods might be closed temporarily while Beech Island Timber is working.

“We’ll put up signage, and we’ll also use our (Hitchcock Woods Foundation) page on Facebook to get the word out,” Tucker said.

For more information, visit hitchcockwoods.org.

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