While the Nature Study Area (NSA), located across from the ABAC Farm, originally started as a place for natural resource management (NRM). Students can get hands-on study experience. Over time, both non-Natural Resources Management (NRM) students and the general Tifton public have come to utilize and appreciate the area. The NSA is maintained by faculty, students, and staff in the Natural Resources Management program. They do invasive species management, prescribed fire, mowing, and infrastructure maintenance at the site. Recently, they’ve even planted some rare plants in the NSA.
Several bridges and a boardwalk allow visitors to enjoy the Nature Study Area while protecting rare plants and sensitive soils at the site. The previous boardwalk used to take people through the woods was put in by retired wildlife professor Dr. Wade. He took the wood from the wrap-around porches on the old dorms that were being demolished and laid them down in the NSA. While the boardwalk was fully functional for around 20 years, over time it has gotten old, rotten, and slimy in places.
In the spring of 2021, wildlife professor Dr. Vanessa Lane and the ABAC Foundation applied for the Georgia Wildlife Viewing Grant through the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Division to facilitate repairs and replacement of the old boardwalk. Dr. Lane applied for the grant because there are few places in Tifton for the public to enjoy nature. Although there’s technically Fulwood Park and the Georgia Museum of Agriculture nature trail, it’s hard to consider the Fulwood Park genuine nature, and people must pay admission to use the trail.
The ABAC Foundation was awarded nearly $2,100 by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Additionally, Robert Gerhart, retired Vice President of Technology at ABAC, was an avid user of the boardwalk & plank trail. He helped locate end-of-year funds through the School of Agriculture and Natural Resources, so the project could keep up with skyrocketing lumber prices. The new and improved boardwalk is not only a full replacement of the old boardwalk but includes an extension that’s nearly 150 feet long.
This extension completes a loop trail through sensitive fire-maintained wetland habitats. The entire project was built by around 40 students and faculty over the course of 10 workdays. They used pressure-treated pine and new cement patio blocks to ensure as long a lifespan as possible.
Now that the boardwalk & plank trail are complete, the public and students alike can go back to walking their dogs, walking themselves, and just enjoying nature on a sturdy trail that shows off the beautiful switch cane, fern grove, and rare plants in the NSA. Even better, Dendrology students will have a clear path to see a class favorite, Toxicodendron vernix (poison sumac), which is carefully marked with orange warning flagging.
In the future, students interested in volunteering their time to maintain the NSA should follow the ABAC Wildlife Society Facebook page. Students can also attend the Wildlife Society meetings every other Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Yow Forestry Building room 103. The next meeting is September 2nd.