I am currently working as an assistant land manager at the Glen Helen Nature Preserve. The Glen is a 1,070-acre expanse of land that was donated to Antioch College by Hugh Taylor Birch. Dedicated to the preservation of nature, the Glen was named after Mr. Birch’s daughter, Helen Birch Bartlett, who tragically passed away in her early 40s. Glen Helen has had different land-use strategies over the years and still had some open farmed fields in the 1950s. At one point it was even a resort that included a handful of small hotels. From this historical point of view, the Glen can be described as a natural area that has experienced some significant human disturbances over the decades. What I do is help to restore and maintain a balanced ecosystem within it.
I have used many skills that I have learned in classes, such as ecology, to observe and read the landscape of the Glen. As an example, there are a lot of standing, dead Osage orange trees. The reason why a nonnative tree like the Osage is in the Glen is that Osage was used as a fence-making tree for cattle due to its thorny nature. Osage is also an early field successional tree so, once the old ag fields in the Glen were left to be reclaimed by the forest, the Osage came in and grew well. Over time, other trees that are later successional trees, like maple, came in, and because they are faster growing they choked the Osage of resources, mainly light, and outcompete them.
I technically work under the Glen Helen Ecology Institute that was created sometime in the mid-1900s to keep the US68 from being built directly in the Glen. George Bieri is my direct supervisor, along with Ben Silliman who is the more permanent assistant land manager. I have been doing a lot of physical labor, including carrying long posts through the Glen for signposts or rail posts to keep people out, blocking closed trails with branches and thorns, peeling Osage posts with a drawknife, carrying all the equipment needed to get the job we are working on completed, helping to drop trees for trail closure or protecting important tree species, and clearing invasive Amur honeysuckle.
My role is to help the land managers with whatever they need help with. My work creates a more dynamic ecosystem and makes the Glen a better place for visitors. I do like helping out and getting the job done. What I have learned thus far is that this job must take into consideration later successional stages of the forest and help make that older forest stage better. The work that I am doing now will greatly affect what happens to the ecosystem of the Glen in the future and I am greatly honored to have such an essential role in achieving the goal of the nature preserve. If I could work in an area of less human impact managing forest I probably would do it, having the job experience I have now. I really enjoy this kind of work. I do think it could be made more enjoyable but that all depends on coworkers and the energy that is brought to the job.
The skillset required for this job is endurance, determination, a sense of the big picture, teamwork skills, the capability to use manual and power tools, the ability to walk a long distance every day and lift at least 50 pounds, flexibility, and patience. This job is definitely not for the faint of heart, people who cannot stand the heat, or people who dislike being outside in a forest all day. I know now that this job can be a pain and takes a lot out of me. I have also come to the conclusion that working outside and moving around is so much more rewarding and healthy than sitting in front of a computer all day. I also know now that there is so much more than the north Glen to explore; the south Glen is a great spot and not many people go there.
What is next for me is to go on co-op again in the fall to Ecuador. What’s next for Glen Helen is to keep doing what it does best by protecting the natural environment and educating the general public about the Glen and how important a natural ecosystem is. It’s important that the community is better educated on the purpose of the Glen and how they can help to improve the natural state of the world. So many people are completely oblivious about the importance of forests and the benefits they provide to the health of an ecosystem and planet. Without transpiration and the cycle of an ecosystem, the Glen, and the world for that matter, would not function properly.
What I envision next for the Glen is to get to a state of old-growth forest, as close to pristine as the eastern deciduous forests were before the white settlers came through and chopped them all down. This is part of the big picture mentality that is necessary to work here because the Glen will not reach a dynamic ecosystem level for at least another 100-200 years and the natural predators come back. I imagine all the invasive species will be eradicated and kept out. I also imagine the way in which the Glen deals with the public will change; it will become more of a preserve and the health of the forest will surpass the number of human visitors in importance. The Glen has a long way to go but, with more passionate people such as my co-workers and me, it will one day reach these lofty goals.
I hope the rest of my co-op goes well and I look forward to continuing the progress needed for a more dynamic ecosystem.
Photo credit: Vincent Nobel