Volunteers turn bike trail into arboretum
by Paige Rentz
Volunteers set out on the Henry Farm biking and hiking trail Friday to turn the recreational destination into an educational resource.

In a joint effort between the city’s Tree Commission and students at both Jacksonville High School and Jacksonville State University, nature lovers have searched out 30 species of local trees along the trail and posted signs identifying them for passers-by.

“We are going to be the only mountain bike trail in the area that is also an arboretum,” said Susan DiBiase, co-chair of the city’s Tree Commission.

According to DiBiase, the Henry Farm project was part of the commission’s work in the Tree City USA program sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation. The city is working toward a Tree City growth award, which requires special projects including those relating to education and public relations.

JSU professor Robert Carter, who teaches dendrology (the study of woody plants), helped identify and flag more than 30 varieties of trees such as oaks, pines, hickories and maples along the three miles of trail. Students in Harold Lipscomb’s shop class at Jacksonville High School crafted the signposts that hold the identification plaques, which were bought by the city, DiBiase said.

The new location will be great for university classes like dendrology and economic botany, said volunteer Kristen Carlisle, president of JSU’s Earth Club, on Friday. “Identifying trees is hard,” she said. “It helps if you have something to look at.”

The senior biology major said university classes generally take to the wooded areas outside of Martin Hall for identification practice, but the area is much smaller and has been affected by the campus.

But Henry Farm is an ideal place for such a project, she said, because the site contains a change in soil and terrain that creates the habitat for a larger variety of trees to grow along the trail.

Members of the Tree Commission hope the work of the high school’s agriculture students will pay off as well, with the use of identifications for its FFA students.

Carlisle and the Earth Club have helped make JSU a Tree Campus USA, the second in the state behind Auburn University. As part of this program, a Tree Advisory Committee on campus brings together faculty, staff, the landscaping department and members of the Tree Commission as representatives of the greater community in order to create better tree care on campus.

“All this is bringing better teamwork,” DiBiase said.

DiBiase said commission members would like to repeat the project next year, adding new trees and signs to the arboretum.
© 2012