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Feature: Robert Stuart

Hey there! We're back this week with Robert Stuart, the Preserve Ranger for the Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve in The Plains, Virginia. Henry and Rob both participated in the Piedmont Environmental Council's 2013 Fellowship program in northern Virginia, where they learned about and helped out with a number of initiatives relating to sustainable growth planning, land conservation, and trail, water quality and resource management.

Rob received his Masters in Natural Resources from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, lives in a sweet cabin the woods, and looks the part of a serious outdoorsman, complete with those pants with the legs that you can zip off to become shorts. Today, December 8th, is also his birthday, and we're proud to give him a chance to talk about his background and what it's like being a Preserve Ranger.

I worked a couple years in horticulture and landscape construction, but did not like the way my career going. A lot of the horticulture industry’s main practices were things I did not agree with, such as planting ornamental species that are known to be invasive, spraying lawns with chemicals that are known to be harmful when they enter water systems, and using massive amounts of fertilizers in order to have that beautiful green grass that is so desired. Now I’m sure the whole industry isn’t this way, but the couple places that I had worked were. Knowing I did not have the money to start up my own more environmentally friendly business, and not wanting to wait and save money performing practices I didn’t agree with, I quit my job and went to graduate school in natural resources. Since then I have had two jobs out of grad school; both of them dealing with nature preserve management and natural resource conservation and preservation.

There is no typical day at the Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve. On a daily basis I interact with the public to make sure they understand the rules and answer any questions they may have. I also take data on how many people are visiting the preserve.

There are many other duties I perform routinely, but not daily. We have different research areas around the preserve that I inspect, and year round invasive species control efforts are a regular task of mine. We have about 10 miles of trails that I roam to make sure they are in pristine condition. My last main duty would be security in the preserve, including boundary management, inspecting buildings located on the grounds, and rule enforcement for those not following the posted guidelines.

I love getting to go outside almost every day to work on improving the quality of the land and its resources, but I also enjoy interacting with the public to explain the efforts that the Virginia Outdoors Foundation is doing in conservation and preservation work.

One day just this fall I was hiking around and I saw that the Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) trees near one of the trails were fruiting. If you haven’t eaten the fruit, it is quite delicious, almost a pineapple sweetness with the consistency of a fruit. Anyway, a group of about 6 people walked by as I was peeling away the skin and asked what I was doing. I asked them if they had ever had Pawpaw fruit before. I don’t think any of them had even heard of this type of tree. I explained that it’s quite good and they should try some with me. I found quite a few more fruits and we all ate them together.

In the upcoming months I will be working on controlling Chinese Privet (Ligustrum sinense) throughout the preserve, a landscape ornamental that has taken over natural areas. It is a deciduous evergreen, so it’s easy to spot in the winter with its dark green leaves. It’s also quite easy to perform chemical control because almost all of the other plants around are dormant, so they will not be hurt by the chemicals.

While the environmental preservation work I do is localized, in my opinion those that work on the ground getting their hands dirty are just as important as those that that are funding, legislating, and researching environmental preservation. Plus, I couldn’t sit in an office all day!

- Robert

*Photo Credit: Virginia Outdoors Foundation

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