Dorothy Bryan-Kanda became the executive director of the Hitchcock Wood Foundation last month, and she couldn't be happier with her new job.

“I love it; it's the best place in the world to work,” she said. “The foundation has an easy mission to get behind because I believe Hitchcock Woods is what makes Aiken such a unique community. People use it every single day, and I think it holds a really special place in the city's heart.”

The foundation owns Hitchcock Woods, which covers more than 2,100 acres, has 70 miles trails and is among the largest urban forests in the nation.

“We're here at the foundation to preserve and protect the Woods,” Bryan-Kanda said. “We're here to educate people on the resources and uses of the Woods. And we're here to encourage the historic equestrian and pedestrian uses of the Woods.”

The foundation was established as a nonprofit organization in 1939. The full-time members of its staff, in addition to Bryan-Kanda, are Woods Superintendent Bennett Tucker and Woods Technician Eric Grande. Christine Reichel works for the organization part-time as an administrator. Dr. Harry Shealy is the chairman of the foundation's board of trustees.

“It takes about half a million dollars a year to manage the woods,” Bryan-Kanda said. “We are funded by donations, but we also have received grants for special projects.”

The Woods is best known for its longleaf pine ecosystem, but there also are a variety of other biological communities within its boundaries.

“I've been asking botanists and scientists how many specific ecosystems we have, but they haven't been able to tell me yet,” Bryan-Kanda said. “The longleaf pine ecosystem is our biggest and most prominent, but we also have many others such as wetlands and stands of hardwoods.”

Bryan-Kanda enjoys going horseback riding in the Woods, and she also likes to walk her dogs, Satchmo and Finn, there. But the forest also is an ideal spot for many other activities.

“The Woods offers an opportunity for a myriad of different types of users: cross-country runners, watercolor painters, sketch artists and photographers,” Bryan-Kanda said.

Each spring, the Woods is the site of the Aiken Horse Show, which started in 1916 and is one of the oldest annual horse shows in the country. It also is the home of the Aiken Hounds, a fox hunting group that conducts one of the nation's oldest drag hunts. The Aiken Hounds' 100th Blessing of the Hounds event at Memorial Gate in the Woods took place last Thanksgiving.

During her first year as the foundation's executive director, Bryan-Kanda doesn't anticipate in making any major changes in the organization's operation.

“I plan to observe and take lots of notes to begin with,” she said. “Doug Rabold, the first executive director, brought significant financial support to the foundation and established the groundwork for the organization to grow. My ultimate goal is for us to become the premier facility for everything that we do here.”

Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.