Guilford College students learn sustainable trails


GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Getting to the Underground Railroad Tree just got a little easier.

About 50 people gathered at Guilford College on a recent Saturday morning for a four-hour class on how to build sustainable trails that would benefit the area. They put into practice what they learned and worked on a quarter-mile trail to the iconic tulip poplar tree.

“We want to show Guilford County that we can do much better with our trail system,” said David Petree, director of environmental sustainability at Guilford College, which worked with a local mountain biking group to offer the class.

Sustainable trails are built with drainage in mind. When possible, they are located in places that allow water to run off the terrain’s natural grade.

To minimize erosion, terrain, soil structure and rainfall are also considered.

Well-managed trail systems can have great benefits for urban areas, Petree said.

A gift and grant combined to make the trail possible.

Guilford College seniors decided to use their 2016 gift fund to build a trail through a portion of the college’s nearly 200 acres of woodland to the tree, Petree said.

The Friends Center at Guilford College applied for a grant to help build some type of curriculum that would help fourth- and seventh-graders — potentially something like a self-guided tour.

Petree decided to contact Mark Gatehouse, with Fat Tire Society, a mountain biking organization, to see if he had any thoughts.

As it turned out, Gatehouse had already organized a class to discuss sustainable trail-building. He just didn’t have a classroom or a trail to build.

“It came together and we decided to join hands,” Petree said. “Everyone agreed that would be the place to build a trail.”

The place is an ideally historic forest, participants said.

The woods are regarded as the southern-most terminus of the Underground Railroad, where Levi Coffin helped fugitive slaves reach safety, Petree said.

And area residents already use the woodland for educational and recreational purposes, he said.

Many of the workers in the crew had heard of the tree, which is believed to be well over 400 years old. Few had seen it.

Evan Clark, who works in the Greensboro Parks and Recreation Department’s Trails Division, said several city employees participated in the class.

They considered it an enrichment course that would help their understanding of what it takes to build and maintain trails.

But, it was the massive tulip poplar that impressed him.

“This puts it all in perspective,” he said. “You feel small.”

County employees also participated in the class.

John Gladstone, who works for the Guilford County parks department, said the county is trying to find the bridge between leaving land unchanged and putting in trails for recreational purposes.

“We’re trying to get an idea of all aspects of the trails,” he said.

Tom Henson of Greensboro said even though he’s in his 60s, he’s a “beginner” trail bike rider.

As he cleared trail, he said people understand that recreational use of forests is financially beneficial for communities.

“I’m encouraged because people realize it brings tourism dollars in,” he said. “The greenways are improving housing areas.”

The forest can’t just be left unmanaged, Petree said. Members of the college’s staff created an ad hoc group to develop a management plan.

The group has had two meetings with community members and hopes to involve students in the next few months.

Some areas on the property need attention sooner than others, Petree said. For instance, there are 9 acres on the college property that contain loblolly pine trees that are beginning to fail from old age.

They were probably planted in the ’60s to be harvested later, Petree said.

“They are past maturity and starting to decline,” he said. “That’s a place we know we need to act sooner than later.”

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Information from: News & Record, http://www.news-record.com

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