Crocus shoots are peeking out and blooming. The sun is shining with clear skies and gentle breezes one day and a thunderstorm the next. The trees will start to grow fresh new leaves. This is the Berea College Forest in the springtime.
Beyond the campus grounds is the forest. In a few weeks the weather will be warm enough for people to start hiking the Indian Fort Theatre trails. Spring sports will be meeting on Alumni Fields where the forest encroaches the tiny valley. Someone has to take care of those trees and Berea College Forestry department has been doing just that, since 1897.
Silas C. Mason started the Berea College Forestry Department the same year that the Forest Reserve Organic Act was passed. The surrounding forests allowed students resources for study and labor just off campus. As a result many Berea students have advanced degrees and careers in Forestry and Wildlife Management. Since Mason there have been 10 College foresters, the tenth and current forester being Clint Patterson.
The ninth and former forester, John Perry, left Patterson with plenty to do. Perry started the process to receive official certification from the Forest Stewardship Council with the help of Fountains Forestry. Fountains Forestry was hired through a grant sent and accepted by the Jesse Ball Dupont Fund. With Fountains Forestry currently working on the forest inventory, the Forestry Department will be able to know everything that is in the forest for the first time in its existence.
A full inventory will allow the department to be able to manage the forest more efficiently. Management of a forest includes knowing and analyzing groups of trees known as stands, categorized by type and age. When a stand is matured, fully grown or is infested by foreign plants they can be handled or even harvested if most of the trees are dying. Knowing where and what the status of each stand is, makes the managing process much simpler.
Clint Patterson came from Clarksville, Tennessee, where he worked for two years. Previously he worked as a State District Forester for nine years in Illinois where he claims to have acquired most of his management skills. There he would teach land owners how to properly manage their forests. He also oversaw parks, sanctuaries and wildlife centers during his time there. “The only difference between here and Illinois is that Berea is hillier,” he explains with a laugh.
In light of the present, Patterson has a deeply rooted inspiration that caused him to invest in a forestry career from his past. Growing up in Illinois where creeks are sandy, Patterson was given ample time to explore the forest on his own. His grandmother would drop him and friends or relatives off at a bridge and pick them up a couple of miles away.
When Patterson came close to graduating from high school, loggers came and cut down the forests around his grandparents’ house. It was then that he first learned about foresters and how they could have stopped the loggers from abusing the land. From this, came an intertwined connection to the forest that ultimately led him to the most current chapter in his life.
Despite his success elsewhere Patterson expresses often how happy he is to be here at Berea. He enjoys being able to pass on what he knows to college students and in turn, learn things from them. Patterson also appreciates all the opportunities he has here. The new Sustainability and Environmental Studies (SENS) dormitory that will be built next to Anna Smith Residence Hall and wood for student crafts are some of the many advantages of completing the FSC certification process. Without the certification any wood used from the forest would not be labeled as “sustainable.”
Although the FSC certification is the most current and important task, Patterson has several future plans that he wants to be able to put in motion. A GPS system can be used to define the boundary or property line of the forest. Therefore, he has considered putting in GPS services so people can adventure off the trail without being lost. Patterson also mentioned putting a live camera on the pinnacle so people could see the sunrise online. Besides that he would like to redo the signs and add more information on them for newcomers to learn about the forest’s background.
Soon, spring will begin to show its face in the lush Berea forest and inspired forester, Clint Patterson will be there to continue instilling the significance of Berea College forests in a nourishing community.