I have a bit of a dual identity around the Museum. Monday through Friday, I work alongside other Fernbank employees on the Development team as the Museum’s Grants and Sponsorship Coordinator. On the second Saturday of the month, however, I’m a Fernbank Forest Restoration Volunteer. I should preface what I’m about to say with the following: I prefer curling up with a good book over pretty much any physical activity, and I’m not exactly the “outdoorsy” type. Yard work, or any iteration thereof, is not my thing. I was, however, writing about Fernbank Forest and our restoration efforts quite a bit in proposals and was motivated to get some firsthand experience out in the Forest. And so, early on a Saturday morning—Did I mention I’m a night owl, too?—I headed into Fernbank on my day off to shadow the Forest Restoration Volunteers.
The non-native, invasive plant species that have permeated the forest must be hand pulled, without the use of heavy machinery or broadcast spraying herbicides. Restoration work calls for detail and precision, as we need to remove the invasives in ways that are the least disruptive to both the soil and the native vegetation. English Ivy (Hedera helix), Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis), Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei), Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense), Lilyturf (Liriope spicata), and Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum) are among the most plentiful of the invasive plant species currently in the forest, but Fernbank has identified a total of 45 non-native plant species that will need to be removed.
This is not your grandma’s gardening! I left sweaty, dirty, and ready for a well-deserved afternoon nap. But I’ll tell you something else: I’ve been back almost every month since. That day I discovered a wonderful, welcoming group of community members who care deeply about the future of Fernbank Forest. The group boasts multiple Master Gardeners, folks with ecology degrees, and others with years of restoration experience. They have been generous teachers as I’ve learned to identify native vs. non-native plants. Their enthusiasm for the forest is both inspiring and invigorating. Restoring the natural biodiversity of the forest will be a lifelong commitment, and I am beyond thankful to be serving with such a dedicated group of volunteers.
And the forest itself? Breathtaking. Peaceful. A place worth getting up for early in the morning on your day off.
—Laura Heiman, Grants and Sponsorship Coordinator
You might be interested in: Fernbank Forest; Forest Restoration Volunteers; Other Volunteer Opportunities