CLAYTON — If trees could talk, the branches at Clemmons Educational State Forest would probably boast stories about Michael Huffman. And since he’s got a good sense of humor, Huffman would probably joke with them.
Since the age of 10, Huffman has worked in forestry. He started working at Clemmons Educational State Forest in 1975, two years after it opened, and currently serves as the forest ranger there.
“I know what it’s like to be the last of the Mohicans,” Huffman joked of his veteran experience at the park.
Most recently, Huffman returned from helping out with Hurricane Sandy recovery where he worked on a logistical management team.
He’s worked on a number of major hurricane recovery efforts including Hurricane Katrina, Isabel, Isaac, and Hurricane Rita.
After Hurricane Floyd, he helped recover cadavers and caskets.
“I didn’t know that was going to be my job,” laughed Huffman, during a speech at the Woman’s Club last week where he was a special guest.
The other rangers he works with also get called in for fire control.
“Any natural disaster in the Southeast, we’ll get called to go assist,” said Huffman.
Clemmons State Forest has been Huffman’s life’s work. When he arrived in 1975, the park was 235 acres. As visitors increased, he saw the need for expansion. He helped expand the park to 850 acres.
Huffman said that last year, the rangers taught about 5,000 school children who came to the forest to learn in the “outdoor classroom.”
About the forest
One of the things that makes Clemmons unique is that the trees do talk. There is an audio trail narrated by recorded voices that play in several of the trees at the forest. Unfortunately the trees don’t share secrets, they share information about their history and species.
Huffman said that he has been working with the two other rangers at the forest to update the audio tour so that visitors who stop by this season will have a whole new experience walking the trail. The forest officially opened on Tuesday.
It serves as an outdoor classroom for students from counties across the state and for anyone with enough curiosity or love of nature to stop by for a hike. Along with the Talking Tree Trail, there are also hiking trails, picnic facilities, and a geology trail with talking rocks.
An elaborate deck overlooking a pond is a favorite stop for visitors and students. The deck features a 40-foot map of the state with its major rivers and river basins painted on the surface. The forest also offers a water quality education project, including a water investigation class, as well as trailside signs that educate the public about pollution prevention.
The way a forest works is different from a state park, Huffman said. The forest is harvested for sustainable timber production. Money from the trees that are sold helps pay for the upkeep and maintenance of the forest.
“It is a working forest,” said Huffman.
During the winter there are prescribed burns at the forest to maintain open forest areas and to promote new vegetation for wildlife. The prescribed burns help reduce debris that can cause wildfires.
Future projects that Huffman said he would like to appropriate money for include putting a new roof on the picnic shelter.