Students take to the forest
Published 4:00 am Friday, October 30, 2015
Pike County Farm-City Week activities took on an international flavor Thursday as Troy University students from China participated in a Classroom in the Forest event hosted by John and Carol Dorrill at their Clay Hill Farms near Pronto.
The event was sponsored by the Pike County Farm City Committee and the Pike County Treasure Forest Association.
The international students enjoyed lunch hosted by the Troy Rotary Club before getting down to the business of learning about the woodlands of South Alabama and those who are caretakers of the forests.
John Dorrill said the Clay Hill Farms property has been in the Dorrill family for nearly 100 years. He and his wife manage the 1,000-acre property with the help of their two sons.
Clay Hill Farms is an Alabama Treasure Forest and is managed for timber, environment, aesthetics and as a sustainable usable resource.
“The land is also managed for recreation,” Dorrill said speaking through an interpreter, Xiaofeng Chen. “We like to hunt deer and turkeys. We have a lot of wildlife on the property, including coyotes. Black bears have moved into Alabama but not into Pike County. We are blessed to have this land and we work very hard at being good stewards of the land. We want to take good care of it.”
But the Dorrill property has not always been as well kept as it is today. In fact, Clay Hill Farms was not much more than wasteland when the Dorrills became its caretakers nearly 50 years ago.
“What you see today is not what the land was like years ago,” Carol Dorrill said. “There was a huge gully here that had eroded because the soil was sandy and the water had wasted the soil away. We had to build the land back up. You are sitting on reclaimed land.”
Carol Dorrill said, as owners of a Treasure Forest, she and her husband are committed to taking the land that God loaned them and making Him proud he did.
“None of us are owners of the land,” she said. “We are its caretakers and are managing it for future generations.”
Dorrill said she has learned that good stewardship doesn’t mean keeping the forest perfect.
“Good stewardship doesn’t mean that a forest has to be neat and clean throughout,” she said. “That’s not the natural way. We take limbs and brush and pile them up to make natural habitats for rabbits, quail and other small animals. That’s the natural way.”
The international students participated in a guided forest tour by John Dorrill and Jeremy Lowery, Pike County forester.
Lowery identified trees along the trail and told the students about each tree and what made it unique and important to the forest.
The students also had an opportunity to learn more about the role of ponds and lakes on a farm. John Dorrill told them about pond management and about the fishing opportunities in ponds and lakes.
If asking questions and taking photos were indications of the interest the students had in to the tour, then it was more than successful.
“It was a very good tour and the students had an opportunity to learn about the private ownership of land here in Alabama and about the commitment to good stewardship that the landowners have,” said Kathy Sauer, president of the Pike County Chamber of Commerce.
Jiun Hua Zhang said, in China, the government owns the land and the people rent it.
He said it would take a lot of money for the forests to be cared for the way they are here in the United States.
There would have to be an economic return for that kind of stewardship to exist in China.
“The tour was fun and we learned a lot,” he said.
The Classroom in the Forest tour ended with an opportunity for the students to visit the Pike County Soil and Water Conservation District’s soil tunnel trailer and learn more about underground Alabama. Pike County Treasure Forest President Deborah Davis-Huggins conducted the tour.