Community Manages a Private Landscape for Healthier, More Resilient Forest

Rolling Ridge is many things. A spiritual sanctuary. A haven for hikers, mountain bikers, birdwatchers and campers. A learning ground for kids and adults to connect with nature via community programs and naturalist classes. And a residence for the five families that call the 1,400-acre property just south of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia home.

The privately-owned landscape consisting of aged-mixed hardwoods dotted with streams and ponds, sits amidst prime territory – buttressed by the iconic Appalachian Trail on one side and the majestic Shenandoah River on the other.

“It is just beautiful,” said Linda Degraf, one of Rolling Ridge’s residents. “And to my knowledge, this is one of the largest contiguous pieces of privately-owned property along the Appalachian Trail.”

Degraf and her husband Scot are one of the families of the Rolling Ridge community. After raising three sons while living and working in the Washington, D.C. area, they moved out here for a simpler life closer to nature and be part of a community of kindred spirits.

Ten years later, she now chairs Rolling Ridge Foundation Board that helps organize community programs as well as manage for the health of the landscape. “The people living and working here want to be good stewards of the land for the people, wildlife and future generations,” said Degraf.

Depending on age and condition of forest, being a good steward may mean preserving the forest and keeping it as is. It could also mean actively managing – using practices such as tree thinning or planting native shrubs – to create a healthier and more diverse age-class of trees and shrubs for a diversity of wildlife. The mixed-hardwood stands that largely make up the forest at Rolling Ridge are a similar age class and are under duress from a large deer population, spread of invasive species and overcrowded trees.

To address forest health, the Foundation Board worked with the Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture offsite link image     (AMJV) partnership and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to improve the diversity of the forest. The property is part of an AMJV project  offsite link image    that aims to improve 12,500 acres of forest habitat and 1,000 acres of reclaimed mine land for cerulean warblers – an imperiled neotropical migratory species – and other wildlife that use similar habitat in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Ohio and Maryland.

The project is funded through NRCS’ Regional Conservation Partnership Program, and includes a variety of partners, including AMJV, NRCS, American Bird Conservancy, National Wild Turkey Federation and West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.

“The project at Rolling Ridge embodies the conservation approach envisioned by the Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture and its many partners,” said Kyle Aldinger, who coordinates the partnership in West Virginia.

The project provided recommendations to improve forest health and resiliency for a diversity of wildlife as well as technical and financial resources through NRCS to implement them on the property. Partners helped the community identify and map a number of stands to thin as a way to open up the canopy and make prime habitat suited for cerulean warblers. It is also working towards restoring native understory to benefit a host of other game and non-game species.

“Our hope is any additional income we derive from commercially harvesting the trees we thin out can sustain our stewardship work moving forward,” said Degraf.

If you’d like to learn more about this project and how to get involved, visit AMJV’s webpage. Meet some of our other “Habitat Heroes” by visiting NRCS’ Working Lands for Wildlife webpage.