Kiersten Ahrns, Ohio DNR Division of Forestry College Intern
Jennifer Heller’s 54-acre property has been a part of her life since she was 5 years old. Growing up, she spent weekends on her family’s land in Hocking County, Ohio. As her parents got older, they decided to sell the forest property and looked for a buyer, but Jennifer knew she couldn’t let her land go. Her father agreed to give her the property, named Wildwood, on the condition that she would continue to bring her family and spend time there. Jennifer agreed – she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“There is nothing in the world like having a piece of land to call your own,” she says. “Sometimes I go out there and am worried about work, or a family member's health, or politics, or whatever, and I hike my beloved hills and two hours later my mind is clear and my heart is easy.”
After acquiring Wildwood, Jennifer reached out to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources – Division of Forestry to work with forester Jason Van Houten to develop a management plan for her woodland. By the time she got her property, invasive plants had taken over. Multiflora roses, autumn olive, stiltgrass, ailanthus, and garlic mustard grew wild throughout the forest. She started pulling up small plants on her own, but needed help attacking larger species. She researched, networked, made phone calls, and wrote emails to find help. Eventually, she found Eric Hayes Jr., a forestry technician from Athens County Soil and Water Conservation District. He estimated some of the multiflora plants to be over 40 years old and 20 feet tall. Using USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) grant funding, Jennifer worked with Eric to eliminate multiflora roses and regenerate hardwoods across the landscape. She continues to work on removing invasive plants from her land and plans to apply for additional EQIP funding to do so.
Jennifer has big plans for Wildwood. She hopes to turn a meadow into a pollinator habitat and dreams of her woodlands becoming a place for kids to learn about nature – to play outside and have fun getting lost in the woods. She makes sure to take plenty of pictures and keeps a journal about her time at Wildwood to document the history of her land.
“Sometimes I get discouraged by the invasives and think my work is for nothing, that I'm only affecting my little 54 acres. But then I think, it's a small step, but important work,” Jennifer says. “I am honored to be the steward of this property. I think it's important to pass along a piece of property a little better than it was when we got it, even if it’s a small improvement.”