Thursday, October 11, 2012

Our Mill Pond Project

By Dustin Foote

Water is the foundation for a healthy ecosystem. Sylvan Heights recognizes that relationship and strives to improve upon our natural world. That is why in 2010 we began the steps to procure land on a 150 year old mill pond. Over two years later, and tremendous effort from numerous groups, we are nearing completion on the Mill Pond Project. It is our hope that by Fall of 2013 we will be able to begin to show visitors a primal world, where you will have a exciting opportunity to kayak among an old growth cypress swamp. Sylvan has high hopes that this eco-tour will spur visitors to reconnect with their natural environment.

While much has been achieved, there are still many steps left for the project. As environmental stewards of this venture, Sylvan has focused its energy on managing the remaining natural flora and fauna, while promoting the growth of those species to which have been lost. A portion of our land grant has been set aside to be returned to natural Long Leaf Pine (Pinus palustris.) Long Leaf Pine is a slow growing native conifer that has largely disappeared from North Carolina, being replaced by faster growing species for the lumber industry. With its disappearance, many species that depended on the pine stands have also vanished. Sylvan hopes that by restoring a small reservoir we can create a natural refuge for species such as the Scarlet Kingsnake (Lampropeltis elapsoides) or the Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis). Sylvan hopes that its contribution will inspire others to follow in its footsteps, for it recognizes the fact that much effort is needed to save these species.

Recently Sylvan has begun preparation for a flash burn of the future Long Leaf Pine stand. Long Leaf Pines are one of the species that depend on forest fires for regeneration. During this time, our staff has been lucky enough to observe American Redstarts (Setophaga ruticilla), Common Yellowthroats (Geothlypis trichas), Black-and-white Warblers (Mniotilta varia), Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea), Pileated Woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus), Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), Great Egrets (Ardea alba), Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa), Great Blue Heron (Ardea Herodias), and many more. These are just some of the species visitors will have the chance to see.

On the bottom end of the 350 acre pond Sylvan has repaired the dam and incorporated a fish ladder. This restoration has raised the water level back to its historic level, and will allow Sylvan to manage cypress growth more effectively. Cypress trees need periods of drought to allow for seeds to germinate. In addition, the fish ladder will allow fresh water spawning species access to the pond.

We are very excited to continue our work on the Mill Pond Project, and look forward to sharing this treasure with you in the near future.