Thinning operation to begin in Hitchcock Woods in July

STAFF PHOTO BY DEDE BILES Woods Resource Steward Eric Grande, left, and Woods Superintendent Bennett Tucker look at a tree damaged by bark beetles in an area of Hitchcock Woods where a selective thinning operation will take place in July.

A selective thinning operation will bring big trucks and other heavy equipment to the northeast portion of Hitchcock Woods in July.

Trees will be coming down, but Aiken’s nature lovers shouldn’t be concerned because their loss will improve the ecological health of one of the nation’s largest urban forests.

“We will be turning back the hands of time and restoring the historical landscape,” said Woods Superintendent Bennett Tucker.

Tucker and Woods Resource Steward Eric Grande have picked out the trees that will be removed from about 115 acres of the woods, and they have marked them with blue paint.

Some of the trees suffered major structural damage during last year’s ice storm, while others are losing the struggle to survive after being attacked by bark beetles.

There also are trees that are growing too close to their neighbors and hardwoods that have established themselves in a part of the forest where they are threatening the long-term well-being of the stands of stately longleaf pines.

“By doing this, we will be enhancing what is already there,” Tucker said. “It will open up the understory and allow more sunlight to hit the ground. The native grasses will be able to flourish, and there will be more baby longleaf pines growing among the really old granddaddy and grandma trees as the native longleaf pine ecosystem naturally regenerates itself.”

The selective thinning operation is expected to last for several weeks, and North Edisto Logging of Leesville will be doing the work, which won’t begin until after the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

“We probably will have to temporarily shut down the South Boundary Avenue entrance for up to two weeks and the Coker Springs Road entrance for a week,” Tucker said.

The logs from the large trees will be turned into lumber, and the limbs and smaller trees will become wood chips that will be sent to Ameresco’s biomass cogeneration plant that provides renewable energy for the Savannah River Site.

“We are very fortunate in the Aiken area now to have a very strong and stable biomass market,” said Gary Berger, former forest manager for Hitchcock Woods and a member of the Hitchcock Woods Foundation’s Forestry Committee. “It allows us to utilize a lot of the small diameter trees, branches and other waste products from a conventional logging operation. We are able to grind that stuff up and remove it from the forest instead of leaving it out there scattered about or in big piles. People didn’t like to see it lying around because it looked messy and wasteful.”

For more information about selective thinning and longleaf ecosystem management, visit the Hitchcock Woods Foundation’s website at www. hitchcockwoods.org.

Updates about progress of the selective thinning operation in Hitchcock Woods as well as the temporary closing of entrances will be posted on the Hitchcock Woods Foundation’s Facebook page, Tucker said.

Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013.

native of Concord, N.C., she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.