When the reality of COVID-19, and our first real pandemic response since 1918 set in, we at Audubon like the rest of the world were impacted by quarantines, school closures, furloughs and a new work from home reality. While many yearned for human contact and interaction, the more interesting twist to this new reality was the renewed interest in backyard birding. Americans from all walks of life hung bird feeders and spent the free time birding from their home offices and kitchen windows. As weeks turned into months though they began yearning for fresh air and longed to be outdoors. Unfortunately, destinations like the boardwalk at the Beidler Forest were closed due to COVID.
As luck would have it, we were already working on a solution. In 2013-14 Audubon SC purchased 78 acres of former agricultural fields adjacent to our current driveway. These fields are currently in various stages of development or restoration to wildflower meadows, Longleaf Pine, old-field succession, mixed pine-hardwood forest and bottomland hardwood forest. The Land Management and Center Staff at Francis Beidler Forest had been planning an upland trail system through this site since 2018, and had marked a route through the woodlands that was later cleaned and cleared of brush thanks to a volunteer group of Citadel Cadets in the fall of 2019.
When Covid kicked things into high gear in 2020 there was still one major obstacle we had to overcome to make the new trail system a reality. In order to keep the old agricultural fields dry enough to farm, a system of interconnected ditches had been dug. These ditches funneled the water off of the fields and into the swamp, they also presented effective barriers to all but the most adventurous hikers. We knew that these ditches would need to be bridged before we could open the trails to the public.
As they say it’s not what you know, but who you know. And Beidler Educator Noel Williams—had a contact with the Boy Scout troop in Summerville, SC that was looking for a service project idea. Thus, began my working relationship with Jennifer Bendetti and the Scouts of Troop 759. In short order Ms Bendetti had put me in contact with Zachary Guido, an aspiring Eagle Scout. After a few site visits, sourcing a few “out of spec” utility poles, a lot of lumber, and two work days we had a beautiful new bridge spanning the largest of the ditches. Zach planned, designed, sourced donations and materials, and supervised the construction of the bridge as a requirement for his Eagle Scout Badge which was presented to him in a ceremony held at the Beidler Forest outdoor classroom.
While our gratitude to troop 759 could end there it doesn’t. Inspired by Zach’s success a second aspiring Eagle Scout from 759 Will Bilsback, who had provided labor for the first bridge, stepped up with plans to begin work on the second bridge needed to complete the main section of trail. Will recently completed the second bridge, dealing with his own set of design issues along the way. Both Zach and Will also placed two benches as rest stops along the trail for those who want to have a seat and enjoy nature. A third bridge, as well as a pavilion and picnic tables are planned future additions.
These two bridges allowed us to open two trail loops through this unique upland site where active forest restoration is taking place. Audubon Land Management staff constructed a parking lot adjacent to the main entrance, and Center staff has erected signage to welcome and educate visitors to the site. These new trails are open daylight to dark, seven days a week and are free to enjoy thanks to the help of our staff and the great volunteers we have the pleasure of working with.