Forest Society Land Stewards – Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities

May 3, 2019
Land Steward volunteers flex their muscles during a walk on the Heald Tract in Wilton

The 2019 Land Steward class flexes their muscles during a walk on the Heald Tract in Wilton, NH. All photos by Emily Lord.

Since its early beginnings in 1993, the Forest Society Land Steward Program has been the volunteer backbone of our forest reservations. Each spring the Forest Society aims to recruit and train 25 new volunteers to join the program. This year in mid-April the Reservation Stewardship and Outreach and Education staff once again collaborated to host the annual Land Steward Training. Over the course of two 8-hour days, volunteer land stewards receive the training needed to assist in monitoring and caring for our 185 forest reservations.

Program Coordinator Andy Crowley gives advice on clearing debris from a hiking trail
Program Coordinator Andy Crowley gives advice on clearing debris from a hiking trail.
“We try to select people who will be a good fit for the program, are committed to conservation, and are likely to stick with us for a few years” says program coordinator Andy Crowley of the recruitment process. Through offering continued training, unique experiences, and access to the Forest Society staff, volunteers are empowered to care for their adopted forests and build a strong sense of accomplishment in helping a part of their local community.

Outdoor conservation volunteers navigate property boundaries
Land Stewards Jake Cross & Dick McNamara navigate property boundaries at the training workshop.
On day two of the training, volunteers learn map & compass skills and how to use a land survey to identify property boundaries. “We try to make the lessons fun and engaging which makes the content more memorable for our volunteers” says staff forester Gabe Roxby. The new skills were then applied to a boundary walk on the nearby Everett & Wilton Forests. The training weekend was wrapped up with a tour of the recently completed timber harvest at the Heald Tract in Wilton, led by Managing Forester Wendy Weisiger.

Volunteer land stewards learn about forest ecology from managing forester Wendy Weisiger
Dale Andrews (green shirt) and Jim Whitlock (white shirt) learn about forest ecology from Managing Forester Wendy Weisiger (far left).
Land Stewards are unpaid volunteers, but they receive compensation in other ways. When asked why he signed up, Jim Whitlock refers to education.  “I love the woods; they teach me so much the more time I spend in them” says Whitlock – Steward of the Strathlorne Tract in Stratham.

For other volunteers it’s about peace of mind. “I’m not the slightest bit handy, but I do LOVE to walk in the woods as it always makes me happy” recounts Wenny-Baker Land Steward Cynthia Van Hazinga.

Field Forester Gabe Roxby bringing fun to the map & compass lesson
Field Forester Gabe Roxby bringing fun to the map & compass lesson.
For people who feel refreshed after a walk in the forest this may not be hard to believe. According to a 2007 study from the Corporation for National and Community Service on the health benefits of volunteering, there is a significant relationship between volunteering and good health; when individuals volunteer, they not only help their community but also experience better health in later years, whether in terms of greater longevity, higher functional ability, or lower rates of depression.

As 5th grade teacher and Foster Conservancy Land Steward puts it, “I find the forest to be a very healing place where I can de-stress from being with 10 year olds 5 days a week”. The Land Steward Program not only enhances the forest for public recreation, wildlife habitat, and drinking-water quality, it also provides indirect health benefits for those who do the conservation work onsite.

Map and guide to forest reservations in New Hampshire

Explore Our Reservations!

Visit our Reservations Guide to plan a day in the woods or learn about land we own near you. Click here to see a map of our Forest Reservations and get directions.