The College Forest is the oldest privately managed forest in Kentucky. It’s also among the oldest in the United States. Berea College was an early pioneer in managing forest lands. Silas Mason and Sarah Fay purchased the tracts beginning in 1897. Since then, it has had more than a century of successful experience.
Berea’s forest is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The FSC is a global organization committed to promote:
- environmentally sound,
- socially beneficial and
- economically prosperous management of the world’s forests.
Our forest is managed with FSC’s core principles and criteria as detailed in the current FSC US Forest Management Standard. The College’s current forester, Mr. Clint Patterson, ensures these criteria are met. The College has adopted and follows a comprehensive Forest Management Plan. The plan was most recently updated in 2019. This plan is available to the public.
Our forest has many uses that benefit the College, Berea’s community and surrounding area. Thousands of hikers enjoy its trails and iconic views each year. Berea has constructed a new multi-use trail connecting the town and the visitor area at Indian Fort Theater. It’s intended for use by bicyclists and pedestrians. Our forest watersheds are the public water supply for all of Berea. It also serves much of southern Madison County, including the Owsley Fork Reservoir. These lands are a primary resource for research and educational purposes for many students in the region, not just Berea students. The forest also is home to a diverse variety of plant and animal life.
When purchased, much of the land comprising the College Forest had already been logged. This was done by prior owners (mostly clear cut). The land was in highly degraded condition. Some of it had been exhausted through exploitative agricultural uses. An important goal in managing these resources over the years has been to return the land to a healthy, productive state. Doing so, we are:
- Sequestering carbon while producing wood for uses on campus and elsewhere,
- Providing a setting for our academic Forest Resource Management minor
- Providing recreational opportunities for Bereans and visitors
- Providing a lasting water supply of high quality for our town
- Providing a welcoming habitat for the wildlife of our region.
- Providing our own wood for campus building projects and for College Crafts as requested.
- Providing a model for the use of prescribed burning in shortleaf pine and oak management.
- Providing a model program for sustainable horse logging.
- Providing a program for American chestnut restoration.
In the last few years, the College has added several hundred acres of new lands to the forest. The College has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in these acquisitions. It has also increased budget support for forestry staff and operations. These expenditures have greatly exceeded logging revenues for the same period. The College has used over 90 percent of its recent logging revenues to fund a reserve. The reserve helps support forest programs and future acquisitions. We continue to invest in our forest and are exploring sustainable forest management practices.
The College is also planning a new Forest Outreach Center. The Center will serve as an environmental education and outreach facility. It will also support our forestry staff and operations. The College has undertaken a forest carbon initiative as well. The initiative commits Berea to managing our forest for the next century consistent with our past and current practices. Future revenues from carbon credit sales will be utilized to support the forest and our forestry operations. Also note: mining or exploration of oil and natural gas resources in the forest (if there is any) is prohibited. The College’s Board of Trustees put this guideline into action.
Logging operations conducted during 2015-16 in Pigg Hollow and on Big Hill represent typical harvesting activities that follow our policies. These particular operations are outsourced to a local logging firm. They involve somewhat less than 3 percent of the wooded area of the College Forest. The Big Hill harvest, in particular, focused on removing a stand of ash trees at high risk of destruction by an invasive species. This species, the Emerald Ash Borer, is decimating native ash populations.
Although visible from public roadways, these sites were chosen to minimize forest impact. An FSC auditor and a ranger from the Kentucky Division of Forestry recently visited these areas. Both observed no violations. This is a typical step in our operations. Mr. Patterson also has inspected these areas on many occasions.
Again, consistent with our practices, site restoration will follow completion of this logging activity. These operations have harvested only a small fraction of our annual forest growth. Indeed, the College Forest loses more trees to natural mortality each year than through logging.
Recently, it has come to the College’s attention that some persons may have concerns or misperceptions about logging in our forest. More broadly, the multi-faceted purposes and use of these lands in conjunction with Berea’s mission. This summary is offered in response and to provide:
- an overview of the forest,
- its origins, purposes and
- management as an important element of the College and its programs.
We have been managing the College Forest responsibly and sustainably and will continue to do so. Our practices do include logging operations. This supplies wood for on-campus uses and for sale. It is conducted at levels well below replacement through natural growth. We have also explored mule-logging for some past harvests. The College plans to continue with that practice and expand it in the future. This will help reduce our present reliance on mechanized logging operations.
The College Forest is one of Berea’s most precious resources. Day in and day out we care for the woods:
- combating invasives,
- improving and repairing trails and roads,
- maintaining the watershed and water transport system,
- monitoring the health and growth of the trees,
- taking fire suppression measures (having fought several significant fires in our forest over the years), and
- celebrating the mountains together as Berea faculty, staff and students spend a day at Indian Fort Theater and the Pinnacles. This happens once a year in October.
We thank you, as well, for your interest in the Berea College Forest.