Catawba students use spring break to help preserve Piedmont longleaf pine

Catawba students use spring break to help preserve Piedmont longleaf pine

SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - From Catawba College: Seventeen Catawba College students spent the first cold and clear day of their Spring Break volunteering with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to preserve Piedmont longleaf pine.

The students traveled one hour southeast to Montgomery County—the heart of the Uwharrie National Forest—to visit Black Ankle Bog, a 284-acre preserve managed by TNC. Black Ankle is one of the few remaining examples of Piedmont bogs and features unique plant and animal communities maintained by frequent wildfire.

According to local histories, the unusual name for the Black Ankle Bog may have come from the naval store industry where longleaf pine tar and pitch were harvested for sealing and treating wooden ships; harvesting the pine tar and pitch was a dirty job that could result in black ankles. An alternative hypothesis for the name is attributed to barefoot miners returning from nearby Black Ankle Gold Mine.

The student volunteers were led by Drs. Forrest Anderson and Jay Bolin, and were enrolled in either Dr. Bolin's Natural Resource Management and Ecology course or Dr. Anderson's Advanced Academic Writing course with an emphasis on environmental writing. Jessie Birkhead, the TNC Conservation Coordinator for the Piedmont, arranged the longleaf pine planting event and provided training for proper planting technique for the hundreds of seedlings.

Birkhead said, "The Catawba students worked so fast and effectively, they are welcome back anytime!"

Black Ankle Bog is ringed by interesting longleaf pine communities that are on clay-loam soils very different from the typical soils of longleaf such as the white sugar sands of the Sandhills and Coastal Plain. A senior environmental science student from Asheville, N.C., Chris Bolick, said, "It's so strange to see longleaf growing on clay and rocky soils."

After the morning longleaf pine planting, the students visited the ecologically important bog. The upland course frogs were in full trill. Numerous rare plants were observed including a variety of pitcher plants that depend on frequent fires to keep their habitat open and relatively unshaded.

Maria Adkins, a junior English major from Salisbury, N.C., said, "I was surprised by the benefits long leaf pines bring to the habitat, like how they use less water and are meant to live by fire."

At the end of the day, over cups of hot chocolate and apple cider, students expressed the desire to return in a few years to see how their planting transformed the landscape and reflected on their volunteerism. Adkins said, "It was nice to be out here with a group coming together with the same purpose. I think it's so great that Dr. Bolin was able to do this for us. I'm very glad I was a part of it."