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Fernbank Museum’s Conservation Work: Restoring an Ecosystem

Fernbank Museum has a long history of protecting Fernbank Forest.

Fernbank, Inc., which is familiarly known as Fernbank Museum of Natural History, is one of the oldest environmental conservation not-for-profit in the United States. Fernbank Forest has been owned by Fernbank, Inc. since 1939, when the organization was founded as a non-profit organization to preserve the forest and ensure this natural treasure would remain for generations. The conservation of Fernbank Forest remains a vital part of Fernbank Museum’s mission today.

Fernbank Forest is special.

Fernbank Forest is a 65-acre old-growth hardwood forest centrally located in metropolitan Atlanta. Although Fernbank Forest is one of the largest assemblages of such land in the Piedmont region, it is a small remnant of the type of majestic forests that originally covered this area of the United States. The US Forest Service notes that forests are vital parts of the water, nutrient and carbon cycles that support life on the planet. Trees clean the air, moderate temperature, buffer noise, provide wildlife habitat, protect the soil from erosion, regulate water storage and affect water quality. (Forest Ecosystem Study Unit for the Georgia Envirothon, Schneider, 2006)

Fernbank Forest is also much more than what you see above the surface. There are many old trees, and some trees ultimately will fall, creating opportunities for other organisms to thrive. Beneath the surface lies the literal foundation for the forest. The soil geology and microorganisms are essential to the continued survival of the ecosystem and are the oldest elements of the forest.

Not only does Fernbank Forest contain some of the most common species of the Piedmont region, but it also is home to rare and threatened species that help support the high biodiversity index and adaptive ability of the ecosystem.  Fernbank Forest, preserved by Fernbank Museum’s founders nearly a century ago, is nothing short of a national treasure. It is at the heart of the Museum’s mission to fulfill—in a noteworthy and environmentally sensitive manner—the rich legacy Fernbank’s Trustees began.

Fernbank Museum is working to make Fernbank Forest healthier.

Fernbank Museum resumed management of Fernbank Forest after the maturation of a 48-year lease to DeKalb County School System. Like many urban forests, Fernbank Forest has been choked with more than 45 non-native invasive species, including English Ivy, Chinese Privet and more. The museum has set in motion several ambitious goals to restore this incredible forest to a thriving ecosystem.

Since 2012, Fernbank Museum has accomplished the following steps to restore Fernbank Forest and offer Forest programming:

  • Added a full-time ecologist to the museum’s team of scientists and educators
  • Completed a thorough ecological assessment
  • Completed a historical site evolution study
  • Compiled a list of species found in the forest
  • Developed a Forest Stewardship Plan
  • Developed a campus Master Plan
  • Secured the additional expertise of landscape architecture and ecological planning firms
  • Partnered with nationally recognized urban forest restoration ecologist Dr. Steven Handel
  • Met with dozens of scientific stakeholders
  • Met with Druid Hills neighbors to engage their active input and participation in restoration work
  • Partnered with Atlanta Audubon Society for Forest Bird Walks
  • Partnered with the Atlanta Botanical Garden  for the Metro Atlanta Amphibian Monitoring Program
  • Trained dozens of restoration volunteers, who meet monthly to carefully remove significant areas of non-native species
  • Enlisted professional forest restoration team to remove invasive species, below and above the ground, from designated locations
  • Developed research methods to test new practices for eradicating Liriope (Monkey Grass)
  • Started an Invasive-Free Yard Program for neighbor properties adjacent to Fernbank Forest and the entire Museum campus 

Fernbank’s approach to the restoration work inside Fernbank Forest is science-driven and education-focused.

Fernbank’s Forest Stewardship Plan and Master Plan include measures to:

  • Restore, protect and preserve the forest and campus as a model for ecological stewardship
  • Stabilize eroding slopes, control invasive plant populations, encourage natural regeneration, and fill canopy gaps with native understory shrubs to prevent the development of plant communities dominated by non-native invasive vines
  • Maintain species diversity, promote natural regeneration of native plants, and encourage the woodlands’ function as refuge to mammals, reptiles, birds and insects
  • Monitor progress after initial restoration work, returning as needed to reduce new populations of invasive non-native plants
  • Expand public education and outreach to increase support for protective measures, and promote a sense of stewardship, especially by engaging the public in volunteer work 
  • Connect the museum campus with the forest through programming that emphasizes the relationship between Fernbank’s mission and the forest
  • Inspire a greater appreciation for and connection to Fernbank Forest by engaging a broader audience, increasing access and enhancing educational experiences 
  • Continue to preserve and maintain the ecological integrity of Fernbank Forest with ongoing restoration work

Self-guided Tours will resume in the summer/fall 2016. In the meantime, there are still opportunities to access the Forest.

While self-guided tours are temporarily suspended, Fernbank Museum of Natural History continues to provide a number of programming opportunities in the forest throughout the year, including:

  • Bird Walks with the Atlanta Audubon Society
  • Christmas Bird Counts
  • Daytime Forest Walks
  • Twilight and Evening Forest Walks
  • UrbanWatch and other school visits
  • Summer Camp days in the Forest
  • Restoration volunteer weekends

Fernbank provides opportunities for free access to Fernbank Forest.

There are several ways to enjoy access to Fernbank Forest, including those that are free of charge.

  • Restoration volunteers help the forest thrive while earning free museum passes.
  • Fernbank Members receive free access to forest programs during museum operating hours.
  • Title 1 schools are eligible for scholarships and UrbanWatch forest trips.

The Museum’s New Outdoor Nature Activities and Exhibition Will Not Be Located within Fernbank Forest.

Our work inside Fernbank Forest is focused on ecological restoration, including trail management, pond restoration, removal of invasive species, and replanting with native species.

The new outdoor nature exhibit experiences will be immediately adjacent to the museum, located in an outdoor area that is well outside the boundaries of the protected forest. Click here for more information on the outdoor exhibition area.