Spencer Woods tour part of Arbor Day celebration

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 30, 2012

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — Cindy Bernhardt’s passion for Spencer Woods was contagious Saturday as she led a nature walk through the 42-acre preserve as part of an Arbor Day celebration.
Bernhardt, a wildlife specialist at Dan Nicholas Park and teacher assistant for Rowan-Salisbury Schools, grew up in Spencer.
“These woods were magical to me as a little girl,” she told 25 people who rode a trolley from the Eighth Street Ballpark to Rowan Avenue, where they entered the forest and followed what will become a primitive public trail.
Spencer nearly lost the town’s unique natural resource last year to bulldozers and developers.
With a train whistle in the distance, Bernhardt led enthusiasts on a one-hour tour of the preserve and pond that will become a focal point when the town and LandTrust for Central North Carolina create a passive park with walkways, footbridges and observation decks.
Bernhardt pointed out the diversity of trees and plants, from towering beech and sycamores to low-growing mayapple that produce berries favored by box turtles.
Muscadine vine, sassafras trees, ginger root and flowering favorites like dogwood and azalea all thrive in Spencer Woods.
Eli Waters, son of the LandTrust’s Andrew Waters, made the discovery of the day when he spotted the skeleton of a large catfish near the pond.
Owls, rabbits, spiders, hawks, possums, snakes, squirrels, woodpeckers, ducks, raccoon, coyote and more call Spencer Woods home. Wild areas like the forest are critical to the survival of migratory birds, Bernhardt said.
“You can save all the polar bears, whales and spotted owls you want, but if you don’t save habitat for them like Spencer Woods, where are we going to put them,” she said.
In 2011, thanks to donations from concerned residents and local environmentalists, the LandTrust for Central North Carolina raised the money to save Spencer Woods. A Charlotte real estate development company was preparing to clear-cut the land, grade it and replant the acreage in loblolly pine trees.
The LandTrust purchased the forest for $645,000 and is selling it to Spencer for $200,000. With help from the LandTrust, the town won a state grant to cover the cost of the purchase.
A number of donors gave money to save the woods in honor of longtime conservationists Fred and Alice Stanback, and the preserve is now officially called the Stanback Educational Forest and Park.
The Stanbacks said they were surprised and humbled by the honor. The couple had been in the forest before but never to the pond, where they ventured Saturday.
“I think it will be a wonderful thing for the community,” Alice Stanback said. “It is so wonderful to see all the plants that have medicinal purposes.”
Just a few blocks from downtown, the preserve is easily accessible to residents and school groups, Fred Stanback said.
“If that had been cut for lumber, it would have been a tragedy,” he said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.