Cherokee Boy Scout Reservation

Written by David Halley.

Cherokee Boy Scout Reservation is a Boy Scout camp in Caswell County, North Carolina. A majority of the property was donated by Bassett Furniture Company to the Old North State Boy Scout Council in 1966. For the most part, the council spent the first 20 years of its ownership developing an overnight summer camp and a 26-acre swimming lake on about 200 acres of the property. Most of the other portions of the property were left alone.  

Around 2003 the council started discussing the use of the remainder of the camp and exploring the possibility of managing the forests. Some of the council and staff initially resisted the idea, but after several years of discussion, promotion by the board of director’s president and presentations by potential consulting foresters, the council decided to proceed with developing a forest management plan that would guide the sustainable and ecologically responsible management of the forests on the property. In 2006 the council hired my forestry consulting firm, True North Forest Management Services, to prepare a comprehensive forest management plan and timeline of activities for Camp Cherokee. I completed the comprehensive plan in 2006, and the council granted permission to proceed with active management.  

This was mainly a restoration plan. When the camp took over the property, the existing forests were mostly a product of repeated cuttings commonly called high-grading, diameter-limit cutting, or select cutting. This is a practice that reduces forest health and value over time by taking the best and leaving the rest. What was growing at Camp Cherokee during my initial visits was not a very good indication of the quality forest that could be growing on the good soil types. So I proposed a coordinated effort of planned forest improvement harvests and management activities to enhance or restore the quality and vigor of these degraded forest stands. I first designated 42.5 percent (680 acres) of the camp as riparian “no active management” forest buffers to protect water quality and provide undisturbed wildlife corridors. What was left was about 700 acres of upland hardwood forests and 180 acres of pine forests. For these forest types the plan called for silvicultural sound harvesting practices guided by Forest Guild principles to restore the true values and yields of these forest stands. For the upland hardwood forests, I recommended hardwood improvement cuts (shelterwood) and the creation of small group openings to improve the quality and growing conditions of these hardwood stands. The hardwood improvement cuts were also designed to promote the development of advanced oak and hickory regeneration in the understory. The small group openings (group selection) were designed to create some age diversity and early successional wildlife habitat within these undisturbed forests. The pine forests were mainly old grown-up fields that had regenerated in low quality Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana) forests that were senescing and falling apart. The plan was to harvest these low-quality Virginia pine stands and replace them with loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) and native shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata), a species of concern since recent forest inventory data had shown a significant decline in this species in North Carolina.  

We divided the property into 12 different management units with the goal of slowly restoring each of these units over time. Each year we selected several different management units for treatment and developed a detailed prescription for each. Then local logging companies thinned and harvested these units. True North Forest Management Service worked closely with the logging companies to make sure that the marked hardwood improvements were harvested without damaging the residual stand or the site. The council also selected logging companies with whole-tree chippers that were able to utilize small diameter midstory trees, tree tops and logging debris normally left on site for fuelwood. We also targeted midstory trees for removal (as part of the shelterwood process) to allow more sunlight to reach the forest floor, which enables advanced oak regeneration to flourish and creates a more visually pleasing forest. What was left were the “mother trees” to seed the next forest. We tried to save the best, and cut the rest to reverse the previous high-grading trend. The key to success was getting the entire logging crew to understand the prescription goals and the importance of taking their time to protect the “mother trees”. Marvin Preslar, the camp ranger, said that “the loggers were as proud as we were after they finished.” 

Fast forward to 2015. To date we have undertaken the following silvicultural and management operations: 

  • Harvested timber in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2013 from all 12 management units; 
  • Generated more than $200,000 in timber income; 
  • Completed 411 acres of marked hardwood improvement cuts (modified Oak Shelterwood); 
  • Converted 176 acres of degenerating Virginia pine forests to shortleaf pine (47 acres) and loblolly pine (129 acres) forest; 
  • Created 25 acres of small group openings (0.6 to 2 acres in size in upland hardwood sites to promote age diversity; 
  • Conducted a precommercial thinning on 47 acres of shortleaf pine to eliminate Virginia pine that seeded in after planting; 
  • Completed extensive road building, improvements and maintenance; 
  • Conducted eight acres of shortleaf pine seed tree harvests;  
  • Promoted advanced oak regeneration on 149 acres with understory hardwood control (basal spray) on hardwood sites; and 
  • Planned control burns to promote oak regeneration in the next year.  

Since we began management in 2006, Camp Cherokee has become a Certified Tree Farm (2009) and a Forest Stewards Award recipient from the North Carolina Forest Services. It also has been the host to several forestry field days and the Southeast Regional Forest Stewards Guild meeting in 2014. Fred White, a founding Forest Guild member who attended the meeting, commented that Camp Cherokee is one of the finest examples of sustainable, ecologically responsible forestry he has seen.  

As the one who oversees forest management on the property, I commend the Old North State Council for taking their stewardship of the land seriously. They are an excellent recipient of the Forest Stewards Guild’s Model Forest distinction and a great demonstration area for promoting the long-term Guild-style management that leads to site, forest, wildlife and wood product improvements.  

“We want to show scouts how to practice land stewardship through leading by example so future generations can enjoy Camp Cherokee and share in all its beauty,” said Rodney Carpenter, Scout Executive for the Old North State Council. 

Colin Lemon, Director of Camping and STEM, is proud to state, “As far as we know, we are currently the only Boy Scout Camp in the country with the Model Forest distinction.” 

Forest Statistics

  • Acreage: 1,700
  • Dominant species:
    • oak: white, red, black, chestnut 
    • yellow poplar
    • American beech
    • red maple
    • sweetgum
    • green ash
    • pine: loblolly, Virginia, shortleaf
  • Managers: David Halley, True North Forest Management Services,
  • Primary Uses: sawtimber, pulpwood, fuel chips, wildlife, recreation, archery, hunting 
  • Certifications:
    • American Tree Farm System

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