The term stewardship brings many images to mind. It connotes respect, responsibility, and caring. As North Woods Stewards, the two of us work to make the woods the best they can be. A large component of taking care of the woods is working to understand and decide what exactly is best for the woods. The North Woods serve a variety of functions to many different people, and part of our job is to work with all those different perspectives to sustain the health of the woods and create a usable, safe, and inviting space for people to interact with.
Right now, we are working to improve the woods by removing invasive plant species. Garlic Mustard is a very common non-native weed that can take over an area and push out other plants. We have been pulling out as much Garlic Mustard as we can in the past few weeks, because they will soon be going to seed. So far we have pulled out about 6,000 plants! We feel that if this is continued year after year, we may be able to eradicate Garlic Mustard from the woods entirely. Japanese Knotweed is another invasive plant species we are trying to remove from the woods. While Knotweed is less likely to take over the woods (it requires more sunlight, and often thrives on the edges between forest and campus) it can overwhelm an area. We are also working to remove Japanese Barberry, a prickly bush that is a great habitat for white-footed mice and ticks, which are linked to higher incidences of Lyme disease. By targeting these invasive plant species we hope to preserve the unique and essential biodiversity of the North Woods.
What about the people who use the woods? We are also working with parts of the woods that affect people more directly. For example, we are proposing a new boardwalk to be built on a flooded section of the Red Trail. This section of the trail is consistently muddy because it is located in a low area that gets flooded during and after heavy rains. This part of the trail, which is behind the Northwoods Apartments, is heavily used, but poorly maintained. Because it gets so muddy, people walk on the edges to avoid the slippery part of the trail. This causes the trail to widen which can lead to erosion and unnecessary trampling of fragile species in addition to making the trails feel less intimate or less natural. We hope to improve this trail with a better boardwalk to make it easier for people to use and to preserve the woods around it. We are also removing fallen trees and working to improve other trails that flood during rain using water bars.
We also have some fun activities that users of the woods can get involved in! Every couple of weeks we will host educational guided tours and activities in the woods. We are hoping to partner up with Camp North Woods, a summer camp program for kids in 1st to 6th grade, to share some of what we love about the woods with the campers. We also plan on having a few service days, where students and community members can come out and help maintain the woods. Service days are a great way to give back to the woods that have provided so many different kinds of experiences for so many people. The woods are a great place to learn and play, but they need our help to continue to thrive!