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Hobcaw Barony: Lessons learned around the campfire

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

On a cool, clear night last week, about 30 people gathered around a camp fire at Hobcaw Barony laughing, toasting marshmallows for s’mores, eating hot dogs and thoroughly enjoying themselves.

It was an old-fashioned good time, but also an educational experience as everyone there left with a better understanding of fire than they’d had when they arrived.

“Fire is one of those things people automatically want to assume is bad. They’ve been told over and over that fire is bad, so they have an aversion to it,” said Trista Hindman, Hobcaw’s environmental educator.

With last week’s program, “Dinner and a Campfire,” she wanted to show people that fire can be a good thing and is actually an important part of forest management. Hobcaw uses prescribed burning methods administered by professionals to maintain the health of its Southeastern pine forest and the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker population that calls it home.

“There are a lot of benefits to a low intensity fire under the right conditions,” Hindman said. “It goes through slowly and burns the leaf litter that builds up.” That eliminates fuel for “bad fire” and makes it harder for wildfire to spread if one should start.

“Every three to five years, you need a good intense fire to keep down the understory,” preventing hardwoods from overtaking the pines.

The “Dinner and a Campfire” program will be offered again Feb. 18 and March 10 from 5-7:30 p.m. Cost is $15.

As with the program last week, the next sessions will have attendees spend the evening wandering through the woods at the wildlife preserve with Hindman to see first hand how fire helps the forests, and looking over the displays in the discovery center to get a better understanding of the forest ecosystem. The evening will again end around a campfire.

Hindman will talk about the bad fires – wildfires that burn out of control and threaten nearby homes and businesses – as well as controlled burns used in forest management practices, including techniques and tools, and how they differ seasonally and for varying types of forests.

A visit to a fire information hut on the property will address challenges created as urban development spreads and the barriers between communities and forests shrink, and what wildland firefighters wear when they battle forest fires. Firefighter uniforms, helmets and gloves are on hand for kids to examine and even try on and were a highlight of the last program.

“It was a great night,” Hindman said. And not only are those who attended better informed about fire, a lot of them are more comfortable with it after the program.

“If you’re unsure or even scared of something, the best way to counteract that is to learn everything you can about it,” she said.

The program is created to appeal to people of all ages and she hopes to attract families looking to spend time together connecting with nature at the next sessions. While younger children might not understand all of Hindman’s lesson, they’ll still have a good time looking around in the woods, checking out the firefighter gear and making s’mores, she promises.

She also plans to give a hands-on lesson on the right way to build a campfire and techniques that can be used.

Hindman is the newest employee at Hobcaw and “Dinner and a Campfire” is one of a number of new programs she has instituted since joining the staff nearly a year ago. She has been focusing on programs that let people get to know Hobcaw better, but also get better acquainted with Hindman.

“A lot of people have been seeing the same faces at Hobcaw for many years,” Hindman said. “I am the newest person here and I want people to have a chance to get to know me and see what I’m passionate about.”

Other programs coming up at Hobcaw include:

An open-air hayride through the woods, Jan. 12, 2:30-4:30 p.m., $15 for adults, $5 for children. Departing from the Discovery Center, the ride rolls past plantation sites, swamps and longleaf forests. Travel with Hindman and interpreters Lee Brockington and Richard Camlin to Bellefield Plantation and stables, Friendfield Church and up the colonial King’s Highway, loading and unloading as they talk about Hobcaw’s history and ecology.

A walk through the woods in honor of World Wetlands Day, Feb. 2, 10-2 p.m., $20. Stroll through the pine forests at Hobcaw with Hindman and Brockington and learn about ricefields and other wetlands with experts from the labs located at the wildlife preserve and research haven. Drinks and dessert will be provided, but bring a bag lunch.

Wildlife landscaping, March 29 and April 10, 10 a.m. to noon, $15. Learn from Hindman how to create backyard habitats for wildlife.

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