By Don Culwell
The 2006 study of plants at SFNC by Theo Witsell and Brent Baker documented a unique ecosystem on the grounds of South Fork, one that showed little sign of disturbance during the recent past.

About three quarters of an acre in area, the upland depression wetland holds shallow standing water during wetter months; massive hummocks of several species of moss, including Sphagnum, cover much of the ecosystem floor. Hot summer weather leaves the site dry. This area, more commonly seen in the Gulf Coastal Plain, supports high bush blueberry (Vaccinium fuscatum), Drummond’s red maple (Acer rubrum var. Drummondii), maleberry (Lyonia ligustrina), and several orchid populations as well as a diversity of sedges (two of which are of conservation concern) and partridge berry (Mitchella repens). Restoration and maintenance of this ecosystem requires considerable opening of the canopy increasing the available light, future controlled burns.

So, the first step in this restoration is removal of the many Eastern red cedars that have grown tall as well as a number of tall sweetgums and hickory species. This tree removal became a Saturday project on May 14 when 12 anxious and dedicated workers (SFNC docents, Board members, and friends) gathered early in the morning for duty. Chain saws whined loudly as trees came thundering down; ten foot cedar logs good enough for fence rails were cleaned and saved while the brush and undesirable trees were burned. A welcomed rest and lunch at noon at the picnic tables beside the cabin was a fine idea…leaving only the feeding of the two huge fires with the ends of burned logs and branches. By 3:00 pm all was quiet, save only an occasional pop and crackle of the fires. If one were to listen carefully, an ever so softly spoken word could be heard from the heart of the ecosystem being restored… “Thanks for giving me light again!”

(For documentation of this ecosystem, see “A Comprehensive Floristic Inventory, Habitat Assessment and Plant Community Classification of South Fork Native Plant Preserve, Van Buren County, AR, 2006” by Theo Witsell and Brent Baker…noted on SFNC web site under “Reports.”)