Korstian Trail Project

In close proximity to Duke and Durham, the Forest is an oasis for outdoor recreation on the doorstep of an urban environment.  However, as use of the Forest has increased some unintended, negative consequences have become more prevalent.

The most popular destination in the Duke Forest is the trail system along New Hope Creek in the Korstian Division.  Many of these trails fall within a Significant Natural Heritage Area (SNHA) because of the unique animals and diverse plant communities that it contains.  Identified by the NC Natural Heritage Program, the area is one of twelve SNHAs in the Duke Forest that are set aside from harvesting and regularly monitored to ensure their protection.

The Red Salamander (Pseudotriton ruber) is a “noteworthy” species found in the Rhododendron Bluff area. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey S. Pippen.

Unfortunately, the combination of heavy foot traffic, off-trail use, and a lack of proper signage has led to severe erosion and ecological disturbance in several areas within the New Hope Creek SNHA.  Most users share the familiar experience of staring down at their feet rather than taking in the sights and sounds of the creek to avoid tripping over exposed tree roots.  It is also not uncommon to find soil and sediment chutes leading directly into the creek.

A degraded trail along New Hope Creek.  The degree of root exposure and soil compaction shown here is not uncommon.

These problems are compounded by the fact that none of the trails were intentionally developed and designed to withstand long-term use.  Given these conditions, the trails are extremely difficult to maintain, and they will continue to degrade – resulting in more negative impacts to the ecosystem and increasing hazards for users.

To address these issues, the Duke Forest will implement a trail rehabilitation and ecosystem restoration project along the south banks of the New Hope Creek trail system –  a high priority area because of the Rhododendron Bluffs.

A flowering Catawba rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiense) along New Hope Creek.

Planning for this project has been an extensive and thorough process.  Since March of 2012, the Duke Forest has engaged local forest users and natural resource experts to discuss the project, its design, and its implications for both the environment and for recreation.  It has also worked closely with Stewart Bryan of Native Trails, Inc., a local trail contractor who has been instrumental in creating the design and who will be responsible for much of the on-the-ground work.

Through these collaborative efforts, the Duke Forest has finalized a plan that it hopes will provide long lasting, effective protection of the area’s natural resources while enhancing the recreational user’s experience.  The first phase of the project will focus on the Rhododendron Bluff area, and Phase 2 will extend further downstream toward the Slick Hill Foot Trail.  The work is scheduled to begin in January 2013.

New Hope Creek – an important natural resource in the Duke Forest

Unsafe and eroded trails will be closed to create new, official trails that traverse a greater mix of forest types; other trails will be rehabilitated or rerouted – all will continue to provide access to New Hope Creek and the popular bluff rocks that overlook it.

Signage to announce the project will be posted soon, and new trail blazes and other educational information will be installed as the project unfolds.  Users can support this effort to protect the environment and improve their trail experience by following all posted signs, staying on authorized trails, and keeping dogs on a leash.

An example announcement sign that summarizes the objectives of the project and what users can do to support Duke Forest’s efforts to protect natural resources and improve the trail system.

Updates on the Korstian Trails Project will be uploaded throughout the span of the project.  Please explore this site for more information on the project and the unique natural communities around New Hope Creek.

5 Responses to Korstian Trail Project

  1. Grace Iovine says:

    I would like to volunteer for your trail maintenance day scheduled for Sat January 19, 2013.
    Thank you. I am looking forward to your reply.

    Grace Iovine

  2. David says:

    How do you plan to protect the underlying trail soil from becoming deeply compacted with subsequent tree root damage? Will you consider using sharp gravel or wood chips or some other method? We have trails on the west slopes of the Cascades that need protection and am interested in learning about what could work best.

    • Duke Forest says:

      Hi David,

      Thanks for your comment. I think probably the biggest determining factor is the type of trees that are in your target area and the degree to which they are sensitive to surface soil compaction. For example, where we are putting in new trail we steer clear of oaks but tend not to worry so much about beeches. Our new trails are also machine compacted, which helps to set them up initially and if we don’t have a lot of freeze/thaws, they usually stay set. However, if we continue to have a problematic area because of soil and other drainage issues, we would install a board walk or other man-made work around. Another thing we do for root protection is use mineral soil to cover roots near the surface; given the intended use of our trails and the types of trees we have, this seems to be sufficient. In the cases where we are rehabbing existing trail, the compaction is already done so we’re not changing that situation. We certainly wouldn’t be opposed to using things like wood chips in specific areas, but we are so concerned with the potential of introducing non-native, invasive plants, that we don’t like to. And again, the new trails are intentionally being placed where compaction should not affect our trees. I hope this helps a little bit though I know our situations are probably quite different.

      Good luck with your work!

      Sara

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