Hitchcock Nature Center

HRF is spending time at the Hitchcock Nature Center near Honey Creek.  The first portion of this fall’s project began with the heavy thinning of future savanna acres in the park.  The slopes have some majestic bur oaks dotting the hillside.  Unfortunately understory growth is filling in with undesirable woody species.  Hickory Ridge Forestry has undertaken the task of eliminating the understory and main mid-canopy layer in this small tract.  Larger diameter trees have been left as temporary wind buffers for the mature dominant bur oak trees.

Inclusion of prescribed fire will be the main management tool for the savanna acres in future years to knock back the new growth from brush and unwanted vegetation.  Fire will also serve as the main stimulant for the hopeful return of native Iowa prairie species of grasses, forbes, and flowers.

The next task is a tract of property near the main lodge receiving the timber stand improvement (TSI) prescription of a crop tree release.  The goal is to help stimulate the growth of the highest quality hardwoods including black walnut, various oaks, Kentucky coffeetree, and a small handful of less important hardwoods.  HRF is excited and honored to be a part of the wonderful conservation efforts taking place at Hitchcock.  As the transformation of the park continues, Hitchcock continues to evolve into one of the highest quality examples of intensive management and reclamation in the loess hills landscape.

New York Says Thank You 2010

This September found the New York Says Thank You foundation and the National 9/11 Flag in the mountainous town of Mena, Arkansas.  In April of 2009 the town of Mena was his hard by devastating tornadoes.  Lives were lost, homes were destroyed, and countless more received other damages.  The task facing volunteers this year was the rebuilding of three family homes, a community center, and several other smaller projects during the course of the build.

Included in this year’s build was the presentation of the National 9/11 Flag and the initial stitching ceremony at the state capital in Little Rock.  Over the course of the next year the flag will travel to all fifty states to be stitched back to it’s original format after being severely damaged in the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings on September 11, 2001.

This year’s projects were very successful.  Great new friends were met along the way.  Sleep was rare…challenges were steep…yet in the end everyone came together to help lend a hand to mend broken homes and heal hearts.  Everything was incredible.

I was fortunate enough to have the task of building a rocking chair from reclaimed 200+ year old pine boards from one of the homes.  It was an awesome project and with many nights lasting into the hours of the next morning a chair was delivered to bring the old house into the new home.

A very special thanks to Charlie, Holly, Pia, Brendan (A.K.A. – Rodney), Taylor, Pam, Tony, Greg, Rob, Larry, Marina, Rory, Big Mike, Pauly, Jimmy Sands, Mr. Parness, Jimmy Z, Ben & Keli, Ammie & Tom, and last and certainly most importantly my lovely wife Jill and our boys Mason and Samuel.

Thank you Mena, we hope to see you next year at our next destination.

Savanna Restoration

The end of July moved HRF south of Glenwood for restoration processes on prime Loess Hills acres.  The property is already beautiful with prairie flowing up the gentle slopes leading to the steep hills.  At this junction prairie grasses meet dense woodland with a mixed stand of hardwoods and invasive eastern red cedars.

We specifically targeted saving of oaks, black walnuts, and an occasional ash or other hardwood to help maintain diversity.  Every other woody species has been eradicated through chainsaw felling.  HRF piled as much debris as possible where it was accessible by track loader.  The rest of the debris was left on the slopes to dry awaiting prescribed fire over the coming years to consume it.

Proper management of vegetation control combined with a prescribed fire regime should allow native grasses and forbes to regain control of the site and work their way up the slopes under the newly opened canopy.  Well over 50% of the canopy is now opened up allowing full sunlight to the forest floor that has not seen light in years.

It looks amazing now as one can imagine native grasses and forbes running up the side of the hills underneath the open canopies of grand bur oaks and even the black walnuts.

Summer Storms

These photos are not necessarily forestry related aside from the few with lush green components that indicate a cedar eradication project in western Iowa that HRF was forced to retreat from due to imposing storms.

These images were captured on two separate occasions.  They are proof of the awesome displays of nature and the beauty before possible destruction.  All of these shots happened for an instant.  One minute earlier or later would not have revealed these incredible moments of our unpredictable weather at it’s finest.

Spring Tree Planting

Spring tree planting has drawn to a close and Hickory Ridge Forestry was successful in planting over 65,000 seedlings covering nearly 200 acres in western Iowa.

New wetlands now have thousands of shrubs and trees growing nearby to increase wildlife habitat and holding capacity.  New oak and walnut woods were planted to improve landowner’s properties.  Public hunting and recreation areas now have added potential to their future.  All of the planting projects have been outstanding and with the weather cooperating the seedlings have adequate moisture to get a jump start on the summer.

Nearly 50,000 trees were planted near Bartlett, IA on Army Corp of Engineer property managed by the Iowa DNR.  These lands are slowly being returned to a more suitable state and with luck on our side they will grow into fine forests.

One of the most rewarding projects has been the reforestation efforts at Preparation Canyon State Park north of Pisgah, IA.  This area was hard hit during the tornado of ’08 that also passed through the Little Sioux Scout Ranch.  HRF replanted most areas of the park that were devastated during the tornado.  This planting will serve as a jump start and stepping stone for the recovery and restoration of this great park.

Wonderful New Friends

Wes had the great honor and opportunity to lend a hand to some of the most determined and strong children one could ever meet.  There are many children growing up with difficulties that most people will never experience.  Something we all take for granted is the ability to get up and walk without thought or hesitation.  There are countless children that grow up needing assistance with this ability.  Unfortunately pediatric orthopedics seems to lack the desire to provide for the needs of small children in certain respects.

Small children need small tools.  In this particular case these awesome kids are trying to walk using canes which are much too large and heavy to be of quality use for them.  Wes built custom sets of canes for these children that are small, lightweight, and proportional to their individual size.  The smallest canes were no taller than a ruler.  The most incredible thing was the chance to see the smiles on their faces and see that the canes would truly work and benefit the kids.  Their strength and determination far exceeds what most of us feel are challenges in our daily lives.  Wes humbly thanks these children for the chance to meet them.  Children are our future in all we do and we must do all we can to help when we can.


This project brings us back into the Loess Hills State Forest south of Pisgah for some Timber Stand Improvement (TSI) work.  HRF is working through blizzards, snowstorms, ice, and treacherous terrain in the beautiful snow filled hills in order to make these improvements.  We’ll be working towards a goal of improving the growing quality of the ‘best of the best’ trees in the forest.  Hickory Ridge Forestry will be selectively thinning around each of these high quality trees in order to ‘open’ the trees up to more sunlight and less competition from surrounding resources.  New photos will be added during the course of this project which will continue over the next few months.

Loess Hills Restoration

This project was located along the leading edge of the Loess Hills in Fremont county.  One can see the hills rise out of the earth while driving from a distance, but to experience them up close is amazing.  Topography in certain areas is as rugged and daunting as you’ll find anywhere.  These hills are unique and are certainly worth the effort to maintain and restore.

A large portion of this property had become heavily invaded with honey locust, cedar, and mulberry.  Hickory Ridge Forestry’s task involved the shearing and spraying of all these described species within pre-determined boundaries.  Although the terrain was difficult in some areas, the compact track loader performed flawlessly.  JCB makes a very well balanced, powerful, and capable machine that has served HRF well.  This machine was coupled with HRF’s tree shear with newly modified spray system.  The shear cut great and instant spraying of the stumps on a project of this size proved invaluable.

Temperatures and weather put HRF to the test, but all machine work was completed just prior to snow in excess of a foot falling within 3 days of completion.  Everything went well, but the biggest reward is having the opportunity to spend time in these hills providing beneficial restoration efforts to improve them.  It will be great to visit in the future to see new oak trees growing among prairie grasses and savannah areas.

Land Clearing

This project was undertaken in an effort to remove thousands of elm trees in order to open up the property more for horse pasture usage.  A majority of the trees felled were of a diameter small enough to be cut with HRF’s newly purchased tree shear.  This shear easily felled trees 14″ in diameter and was successful in felling a few trees approaching 18-20′”.

Due to the sheer numbers of trees involved HRF knew that herbicide application after all trees were felled would be an issue.  Wes retrofitted the shear with a custom made spraying system allowing rapid herbicide application to each cut stump immediately after shearing.  The system worked phenomenally .

Larger trees were felled using chainsaw and sprayed with a backpack sprayer.   All debris was later piled and compacted with the compact track loader coupled with a heavy duty grapple.  These piles will dry out over a years time and will be ready for burning next year.  This project made a radical transformation to the property and looks great.  It was fun to work on and and a successful trial run of the sprayer system Wes developed.

Savannah Restoration

This project is on an incredible property in eastern Pottawattamie county.  This property already has a well established prairie area that rolls up into some mature hardwoods and then a slightly younger stand of hardwoods.  The woods are filled with red and bur oak, black walnut, shagbark hickory, black cherry, and then a mix of low quality hardwoods.  In certain areas of the woods you’ll find grasses and forbes tyring to establish themselves.  For the first steps of this savannah creation the initial action is to open the canopy and flood the woodland floor with sunlight.

Underneath and mixed within the high quality trees are numerous hackberry, mulberry, bitternut hickory, elm, and some ironwood.  HRF completed a very heavy and intensive thinning of specified acres to eliminate nearly all of these low quality trees.  Cut stumps were treated with herbicide to inhibit regrowth or sprouting.  This process opened up the canopy immensely allowing vast amounts of sunlight to reach the ground.  This action also helped to eliminate all potential seed sources to decrease the opportunity for further regeneration of these low quality hardwoods.  Finally, with this new lack of competition, young high quality seedlings requiring high amounts of sunlight will have a greater opportunity to flourish.

With all the thinning we arrive at the issue of all the debris left behind.  To truly create a savannah this property will now be using prescribed fire as a tool to manage the weed explosion and to release new grasses and forbes that we hope are lying just below the surface waiting for release.  This fire will also lend a great hand in consuming the woody debris left after thinning.

It’s going to be amazing to watch this area transform into the dreams of the landowner.  These types of projects take time and dedication, but the end results are worth the sweat and toil.