Emory Report
July 7, 2008
Volume 60, Number 34

Staff or faculty who would like to organize a group for a day of work in the woods at Oxford College during July, August or September should contact Erik Oliver at
770-784-4692 or


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July 7, 2008
Oxford works to return a forest trail to its roots

By Kim Urquhart

When Erik Oliver ’93C–’93G was a boy growing up at Oxford College, he enjoyed roaming the woods west of campus, exploring the 1.5-mile Hearn Nature Trail.

Yet Oliver, now special assistant to the dean for strategic initiatives, recalls that, until recently, visibility in the woods was often limited to 30 feet. Non-native plant species had overgrown an estimated 85 percent of the forest floor, the lesser-used parts of the trail engulfed by the likes of Chinese privet and Elaeagnus.

Despite the best efforts of biology and botany classes to clear sections of the woods annually, without a sustained effort the areas continued to succumb to invasives.

Now Oliver is championing the Hearn Nature Trail’s restoration with the help of students, faculty and staff. “I remember how beautiful these woods were when I was a kid,” says Oliver, the son of emeritus professor Hoyt Oliver. He recalls how the late Professor Curry Haynes, who led the trail’s construction in 1978 with funds from a memorial gift to the college, continued personally to maintain the trail well into his retirement.

Since the project restoration began in 2006, more than 100 students have joined Oliver, biology faculty Eloise Carter and Theodosia Wade, and facilities management staff to clear approximately eight acres of

Carter points out Oxford College’s leadership role in Emory’s sustainability vision to remove invasive species from all university forests and develop long-term restoration plans by 2015. “We want to be a model of best practices” for invasive species removal, she says.

Invasive plant experts provided initial consultation for the project, conducting workshops and demonstrations for the faculty, staff and students who would provide the manpower. “With our goal for it to be educational as well as environmentally responsible, that was a great start for us,” Carter says.

Invasive plants are easy to remove but hard to manage, she says. The project provides Carter many teachable moments for the students, who cut, pull, Weed Wrench and muscle out the offending plants. “You get a sense of how tenacious these plants are, once you get them out,” she says.

The old-growth forest, logged heavily in the 1940s to save the college from financial ruin, is regenerating and is once again covered with oak, poplar, hickory, black gum and sycamores.

“We’ve attacked the problem because we are committed to have the forest back, and to what it takes to maintain it,” says Carter.

Perhaps no one is more committed than Oliver, who has contributed more than his share of “sweat equity” to the project.

“Erik has done an amazing job garnering resources and human capital,” Carter says.

This summer, with the students gone, Oliver and groundskeeper Jeff Radovich are often the project’s sole participants. When they can find time away from their regular responsibilities, they spend it fighting back the perpetual pests’ advances.

There’s kudzu, lots of it, and minefields of poison ivy. Oliver points out a wisteria vine creeping up a tree. “See how it tightens like guitar strings around that trunk? If we don’t remove it, it will literally strangle the tree.”

Trail maintenance is a constant battle. “There is no easy fix. It’s like weight loss,” Oliver says. “It takes a lot of patience and slow deliberate work.”

The Hearn Nature Trail has served many generations of the Oxford community as an outdoor classroom, peaceful place of reflection, and, leading past a Civil War-era cemetery, a walkable history lesson. Oliver hopes that the majority of the trail will be ready, with new tree markers installed, in time for Alumni Homecoming Weekend this September.

“Thirty years ago this trail was dedicated for the first time,” he says. “It would be great to be able to have a trail rededication ceremony on this anniversary. To do it in that timeframe, though, I’m afraid would take an army we just don’t have.”