England has Stonehenge. France has cave paintings. We have national parks.
The parks were a cutting-edge idea when they were born in 1872, with the founding of Yellowstone. With some 2.7 million visitors a year, our 59 national parks are still a big deal.
But how many of us get to visit them? How many of us get to be inspired by the trees that form a green mantle over many of their lands?
That’s why biologist and environmentalist Joan Maloof, who is all about trees, has another cutting-edge idea: the Old Growth Forest Network. Its goal? Have at least one old-growth forest never to be logged in each county throughout America.
The network estimates there are some 2,370 counties in the United States that can ecologically support forest. That means the area has some old-growth trees and teems with a variety of species, including birds, small mammals, amphibians and reptiles. Forests don’t naturally grow in 770 U.S. counties — picture some areas of desert and tall grass prairie.
Patterned after the national parks, the network would ensure every American easy access to old-growth forests, with a place for you to park and trails for you to follow to the trees.
“I am trying to make it as easy as possible for people to get into a beautiful forest,” says Maloof. “Once people get hooked on how great they feel after visiting one of these older forests, they will eventually seek out the forests themselves.”
Old Forest Growth Network founder Joan Maloof takes notes on one of her many visits to mature and old-growth forests.
Benefits, Maloof argues, are ecological, cultural and aesthetic. Those may be news to you. Who today knows what an undisturbed forest looks like? How many of us get to breathe the healing air in such places?
Forests are the natural bent of Eastern temperate North America. So, if you’re an owner of a new home on land that used to sprout corn and soy, forest wants you: “All we have to do is: nothing. Stop mowing,” Maloof writes in Teaching the Trees: Lessons from the Forest. “Forest is our land’s natural calling, and if you leave just about any spot here alone for long enough it will become forest, thanks to the birds and the wind.”
Maloof, a professor emeritus who recently taught biology and environmental studies at Salisbury University, has spent lots of time in the Eastern temperate forests of the United States, especially ones with old-growth trees. She has written a book about her travels: Among the Ancients: Adventures in the Eastern Old-Growth Forests. Maloof’s love for trees sparkles like dappled light through her books, but it is her passion for the Old Growth Forest Network that drives her work today.
Gifts of the Forest
Maloof’s passion is driven by that fact that these forests may be the only place where we can get a refresher course on what time is all about. Slow … deep … time. Ecological time — not the short time you find in lives lived at the frenzied pace most of us want a break from.
You don’t know what you’re missing until you find it. And you’ll only find deep time — and deep beauty — in one of these forests.
Parker’s Creek Preserve, part of the American Chestnut Land Trust on the eastern side of the South Loop Trail, recently became part of the Old Growth Forest Network.
To gain support for the value of beauty, Maloof conducted a study with Salisbury students, ages 18 to 23. They visited two forests. One was a managed plantation of 11-year-old loblolly pines that measured about one to seven inches in diameter at about a yard apart. The second forest was half-century-old loblollies, about a foot to 17 inches in diameter and about five yards apart, with American holly, sweet gum and southern red oak among them. Of 329 students, 232 chose the mature forest as the more beautiful.
Old forests have still more to give.
Remember that wood-air therapy? Americans tend to ignore that gift, Maloof says. The Japanese have a name for it: shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. Scientists recognize there is something to this. In Japan, researchers learned diabetics who walked through forests lowered their blood-sugar levels. Researchers in California’s Sierra Nevada found some 120 chemical compounds in the air of that mountain forest.
“These habitats are the lungs of our planet,” says Maloof. They are, she says, more necessary to life than the money they could be converted into. “We are not the only species on the planet. To have human life be as full as possible, we need other species.”
Other species include trees and all they support.
The Annapolis-Baltimore-D.C. metro area is not rich in national parks. Closest are Assateague, Greenbelt, the C&O Canal and Shenandoah. Maryland has no national forest. We are only one of seven states so deprived.
We do, however, have old-growth trees. Maryland’s first state forester, Fred Besley, valued production of board feet above beauty, habitat or wood-air therapy. Even so, public ownership of forests — and tree planting — grew 50-fold in his years as state forester. From 1906 to 1942, Maryland came a long way toward recovering some of its early forest losses. Many of those lands remain protected today, but not necessarily from logging, which is one of the many permitted uses of public forests.
To find big stands of big trees, I visited the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest in North Carolina. I was lured by a remembered promise: If you want to see large tulip poplars, go to Kilmer. It’s the last stand of old-growth tulips in the East.
It was true. Walking through and admiring the large girths of those trees, breathing in the cool air despite the summer temperature, I learned the meaning of shinrin-yoku.
More of us could have that experience if we could reach an old-growth forest in a drive of, say, 45 minutes. That’s the plan of the Old Growth Forest Network.
22 Counties, 2,348 To Go
Calvert Countians already have that good fortune. Calvert is one of five Maryland counties (along with Dorchester, Garrett, Montgomery and St. Mary’s) with a forest designated part of the Network. Other states with some old-growth forest in the network are California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
In Calvert, scout Peter Vogt recommended a portion of Parker’s Creek Preserve in Prince Frederick. This is not true old growth, but it has not been logged in more than 150 years. Its woods are black gum, tulip poplar, sycamore and beech. The land is managed by the American Chestnut Land Trust. Now, as part of the Network, it has a long-range plan and protection against logging.
In Anne Arundel, the search continues with nutrient ecologist Olav Oftedal, a scientist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, leading the charge. Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary seems to be in the forefront, but Oftedal welcomes other suggestions.
To enter the network, a forest should have old trees, an accessible trail and parking. The chosen forest must be guaranteed never to be logged. That last requirement, Maloof says, is hardest to fulfill.
“You would be surprised at how few forests are protected from logging,” she says.
One potential gem that goes unprotected is Schoolhouse Woods forest in Queen Anne’s County. It’s part of the Maryland State Park system — the largest piece of state-owned, old-growth forest on the Eastern Shore — yet it could be logged.
That’s where we come in: with money for the cause and with connections around the state to make Maryland a state with an accessible old-growth forest in every county.
Make the time to visit the trees, be inspired by them and suggest areas that might extend the Network, so that others can also to be inspired.
Learn which forests in Maryland have been included, see photos and offer support at www.oldgrowthforest.net.