Project Pando brings native trees to future Williamson Preserve

August 21, 2020

By EB Brown, Project Pando facilitator at Leaf & Limb

Growing up in Raleigh, I have to admit that I took the local wildlife for granted. After college, I moved to the NC mountains, where curing plant blindness is a much easier task. mountain ranges, the bright green of new hemlock growth, and pillowy patches of moss created a constant intrigue. My eyes now open, I returned to the piedmont and found an almost equally brilliant diversity. From the towering loblolly pines, to the heron’s wingspan, and meandering creeks and rivers — this area has so much to love.

My first Triangle Land Conservancy volunteer event added depth to my growing connection with the piedmont flora and fauna. A group of us were helping track invasive species in a restoration project at the Brumley Nature Preserve. Walking through Brumley, with this volunteer group who came from a variety of backgrounds, our conversations ranged, but they all eventually tied back to a fascination with these woods. I quickly became a huge fan of TLC’s preserves. Little did I know, my work at Leaf & Limb would eventually intertwine with these preserves.

Earlier this year, Leaf & Limb began shaping our new initiative called Project Pando. The goal of Project Pando is to create a volunteer-driven tree farm that sustainably grows native trees to give to the public for free. In essence, we are focused on connecting people with trees. One of our largest hurdles was to find the space needed for this project.

Luckily for us, TLC was interested in our idea. Trees are critical to preserving watersheds and biodiversity. They can also play a significant role in improving the resilience of our agriculture. These are goals that TLC and Project Pando share, and they are all critical in helping to restore the balance of life on Earth. Because of these common interests, TLC invited us on a tour of Bailey and Sarah Williamson Preserve (which opens to the public soon).

On this first tour, I immediately knew the Williamson Preserve was a special place. We walked through open pastures passing by old barns and bucolic ponds, all connected by wooded trails. Adding to the beauty was an exciting plan to provide portions of the 400-acre preserve for farmers to work the land in a regenerative way. We were thrilled when TLC agreed to allow us to grow trees on 10 acres of the preserve. Project Pando had found a home.

As I think about the future of the Williamson Preserve and Project Pando, my mind always returns to the surrounding biodiversity. Our planet is suffering, and we are losing species at an incredibly fast rate. The temporal significance of this is difficult to comprehend. But the Williamson Preserve and Project Pando allow us to try. By planting native trees, we add stable beings that provide homes for a multitude of life. By holding land in conservation, we provide the time land needs to nurture a variety of species. By combining conservation with regenerative agriculture, we improve our relationship with this biodiversity.

But let’s not forget, these big changes only happen one day at a time. Today, I have just finished a hike around the preserve. I saw ten different types of mushrooms. The chickasaw plum thickets, a plum native to the region, are thriving. Project Pando’s tulip poplars that we transplanted from gutters on a house are growing larger each day. I am excited to see how this preserve will change as visitors arrive, farmers start producing, and new volunteers are given the opportunity I had to deepen their connection with the life around us.

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