Monday, March 3, 2014

Winter Stewardship

By Beth Sullivan
Over the last months, we have all felt the desire to hibernate just a bit. Many stewardship activities have ceased. Mowers and clippers and trimmers have been cleaned up and put away. But winter is also a good time to catch up on some chores that are harder to do in the green seasons.
One of our obligations, as stewards, is to walk the boundaries of each property, at least once a year, to make sure it is properly and visibly posted and to make sure there are no encroachments from neighbors or signs of vandalism in the out of the way corners. Many of our preserves have trails, but they don’t necessarily hug the edges. Winter is a good time to follow the walls, find the boundaries and check the outside borders. One thing we may discover is that the boundaries have not yet been posted! That makes it more interesting.

Boundaries often cross streams
Posting the edges of our preserves is an important part of stewardship.
We arm ourselves with maps and deeds to start. Each property has a “Shape File” in our records and that can be used with a GPS device. However, to be accurate, we often need to bring the maps and deeds with descriptions of walls and features, drill holes, landmarks and such. Bringing a compass, and even better still, someone who is really knowledgeable with it, allows us to follow angles and lines. A 200 foot tape measure gets us from one point to another along a definite distance. All this might be hard enough in open land, but then we need to get it all done in the woods! There are always shrub thickets, briar patches, streams and wetlands with which to contend. Rocks and ledges get in the way of straight lines. If we are lucky the deed and maps agree, and the property lines run along a stone wall. Those farmers and landowners will never know how often we bless them as we follow their well-made and beautiful walls. However, there are many instances where the property line has no landmarks, and the line must be determined by compass sighting and measured. This has been a lot easier to do while the leaves are off the trees, and the ground and wetlands are frozen!
Checking deeds and maps is part of finding the edges.
What makes it most interesting is that we get a chance to see portions of the property that we may not otherwise visit when we make our usual hikes on the established trails.
Ledges and boulders get in the way of straight lines
Sadly we do find signs of encroachment: neighbors tossing lawn and yard debris onto our land, dumped bedding, appliances, old machines, hideouts where locals have had parties or camped out, forts built by kids that have become fortresses! It is often tricky to deal with such issues, but it must be done.
Sadly, dumping is often discovered on boundary surveys.

An illegal deer hunting stand discovered on a survey.
When we posted the boundaries of the new addition to the Hoffman Preserve, we found old stone foundations, rock cairns, lovely bogs and seeps where the water was open and unfrozen, even in the depth of winter. As we nailed one of our boundary signs to a big old tree, the hammering awakened a Flying Squirrel who launched itself off the trunk, straight at me and over my head to the next tree! A memorable encounter.
Avalonia signs need to be placed up high.

Stone walls and drill holes create legal boundary marks.
We have posted the boundaries on several new properties this winter and are catching up on posting some older ones. We have walked the outer edges, given thanks to the farmers who made the walls we follow and learned a bit more about some of our really lovely preserved land.

Photographs by Beth and Jim Sullivan.

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