|This aerial photograph shows the thriving forest land Liberty replanted four years ago. Liberty's Equestrian Center is visible at the top left.|
Liberty University has been planting and cultivating several pine plantations, including 130 acres on Liberty Mountain, in an effort to protect and responsibly manage its property.
Liberty is in the top 10 colleges in the country for most acreage, with nearly 7,000 acres, including Liberty Mountain, Ivy Lake in Bedford County, and island property on the James River.
“A majority of our land holdings are undeveloped, left in their natural state,” said Lee Beaumont, vice president for Auxiliary Services. “We have a forest management plan in place, in which we do management cuttings followed by plantings.”
Beaumont said this helps to create productive land, thus keeping the mountain ecosystem healthy.
The university is committed to doing its replanting and forest management efforts right, and works closely with Donald Parris, a professional forestry consultant and owner of Timber Consultants, Inc. Parris has nearly 30 years experience in forest management, timber appraising, and timber sales.
“What we are trying to do is take something that Liberty has and utilize the land they have been given responsibility for and try to be good stewards of it,” Parris said.
He coordinates with Beaumont and Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr., who Parris said is very knowledgeable about the mountain property, to decide how to best allocate plots of land. Parris advises on the right species to plant in the proper soil type. This includes converting poor hardwood sites to pine and allowing nature to advance the good hardwood sites.
“Due to past history of insect infestation and harvesting methods, the mountain property lacks a good mixture of pine timber,” Parris said. “We are trying to get a good mixture up there. It gives it diversity for the wildlife and for the environment, too. We look to put the right species on the right site to grow good timber.”
Liberty’s early replanting efforts are beginning to flourish, while some newer ones are just sprouting. A 130-acre, 4-year-old pine plantation is one of the bigger tracts and is teeming with life as trees are beginning to surpass 12 feet tall.
Liberty is replanting on a smaller scale as well, including a 4- to 5-acre tract just up the mountain from its Wingate hotel property. Parris said Liberty also has 30 acres of 4-year-old plantation and a fresh, less than 1-year-old 42-acre tract.
Parris explained that in replanting and forestry, results are not visible overnight, but one can expect to see the land thrive as years go by.
The land is better than it ever has been, according to Parris, with healthy greenery being managed and several conservation easements in place for streams and wetlands. In fact, this is as dense the forestry has been on the land in almost a century, he said. He explained that photographs from the 1930s and documented history reveal much of the mountain property was used as open pastureland.
“We realize the uniqueness of the land we own and the fact that it is a very large watershed. We recognize its impact on the surrounding area and therefore we are taking the appropriate measures to effectively manage the property,” Beaumont said.
Liberty Mountain is buzzing with activity, with a plethora of activities available to students and the community, some free of charge, allowing them to hike, bike, run, and walk all across the gorgeous property. Visit Campus Recreation for a full list of offerings and more information.