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Sunshine Forest

Sunshine 500-Year Forest

Most of our forests in the mountainous regions of Virginia run up the slopes. In contrast the Sunshine forest, owned by Ryan and Erica Sunshine, lies down the slopes of Mill Creek in Montgomery County near Blacksburg, Virginia. This 117.5 acre forest is very diverse and species rich with at least 9 different forest types. There is a regionally rare stand of Post Oak on the east side of Mill Creek. Ryan’s parents, Donald and Joanna, owned the property in mid-2010 when the conservation easement with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation was amended to remove the right to any future harvesting and restrict any development within the designated 500-Year Forest area.


Summer 2014 Forest Report

6Sunshines Cropped

The Sunshine Forest has new owners—and they’re Sunshines, too. Ryan and Erica Sunshine have taken over as stewards from Ryan’s parents, Donald and Joanna. This marks the first time a 500-Year Forest has changed owners, making it an historic event not just for the Sunshines, but for the Foundation, as well. Ryan and Erica also have a next generation of Sunshines--son Jeremy and daughter Samantha-- motivating them to continue the family’s conservation tradition.

Tom Wieboldt of the Massey Herbarium at Virginia Tech completed the botanical inventory of the Sunshine forest, producing a list of 221 species. In May, he enlisted help from Natural Heritage Program scientists to install two permanent plots, one on either side of Mill Creek. This winter a report will be prepared detailing the plants.

In addition, he put some concerns to rest for the new owners, reassuring Ryan and Erica that “passing through a plot while hunting or hiking would not be an issue.” He further explained:  “Data from thousands of such plots is subjected to rigorous statistical analysis which helps to identify common features in the vegetation and landscape. New data is being added all the time and the classification adjusted accordingly. Plots have been shown to be a good scientific method for studying vegetation and could help the Foundation know how similar or different participating forests are from one another. This could help direct future preservation efforts. It also allows them to put a label or name on what they are preserving that may be useful for communicating with like-minded individuals and provide a crossover with VNHP and other conservation efforts in the state and region.”

Earlier Forest Reports

June 2006

Our Foundation received a $3,000 grant from the Virginia Outdoors Foundation and the Virginia Environmental Endowment to conduct a mapping study locating properties already under a conservation easement and with fertile soils in three Virginia counties. The Sunshine property and nine other properties in Montgomery County were identified. The study was conducted under the leadership of Carolyn Copenheaver, Associate Professor of Forest Ecology, Virginia Tech Department of Forestry.

October 2008

Post Oak StandNon-native species, especially Ailanthus, are present and in high numbers in the previously harvested areas. As with much of Virginia, deer are a serious threat to native forest regeneration. Our management efforts will focus on bringing the invasives under control and reestablishing the native forest in those areas. A plan for this work and a detailed analysis of the forest has been developed by Britt Boucher of Foresters, Inc., Blacksburg, Virginia.


Joanna and Donald SunshineJoanna Sunshine eloquently expresses her deep environmental concerns. These are “our mountains, our valley, and our forest. We live and work in our farmhouse studios surrounded by the gently rolling, tree covered Blue Ridge. It is a privilege… indeed a gift to live here. We see our task as one of stewards, custodians of the land, of improvement and preservation of the land for generations to come. It is up to us to leave this a better place. We believe no one, no purpose; no cause has the right to destroy nature.” Thus, the Sunshines enthusiastically embraced the idea that their forest could become an old-growth forest.

September 2011

The Doing In of 3,125 Ailanthus Trees

To help us in the understanding of a prospective forest we hire an expert to evaluate its quality as a 500-Year Forest. Our expert was Britt Boucher. In his report he identified some areas that were dominated by Ailanthus also known as Paradise tree or Tree of Heaven, an invasive tree from the China See attached map. Further visual inspection revealed that the forest south west of Mill Creek was also heavily infested with Ailanthus.

This was Donald and Joanna Sunshine’s first year as 500-Year Forest owners. As Donald said, “Thus, began a new adventure.” As reported in the last issue of the news letter, Donald set out to determine with whom he might contract to begin this eradication program. After several tries he was fortunately referred to Neil Ames Horticultural Services. Donald Sunshine, Deb Wessenborn, and Neil AmesNeil and Deb, a husband and wife team, were just the right people for this job.

In four separate months or phases covering about 50 acres as shown on the map, Neil and Deb worked over the landscape to put to death over 3,000 Ailanthus trees. A similar effort next year should finish off the infected remainder part of the forest. There will be on going effort to control new seedlings in the future.

Ailanthus injectionThe Ailanthus tree is either male or female. In some areas of this forest Ailanthus was dominant tree cover. In these places Neil and Deb’s effort was restricted to killing only the female trees opening up the forest to the younger native trees by not exposing the forest floor to full sun.

On a very positive note let’s leave this forest with Deb’s observations. “There were also wonderful patches of ferns of all types: Christmas, maidenhair, lady, male, giant wood, ebony spleenwort, walking ferns, and others we couldn't identify. Our walks through the forest have been great horticulture experiences for us. We both grew up spending a lot of time in the woods, and this has been a treat. We hope to continue working with the Foundation in the future.”



Fall 2013

Tom-WieboldtTom Wieboldt, the Virginia Tech botanist associated with the Massey Herbarium, visited this forest twice in 2013. Among his findings: Black-seed ricegrass, a three-parted violet and a lot of Goldies fern. The last of the three was a new record for Montgomery County. In addition to Tom’s efforts, the owners have scheduled the next round of invasives work by Deb and Neil Ames of Neil Ames Horticultural Services for late winter or early spring. That work continues under the invasives initiative announced at the October forest owners luncheon that has the Foundation forgoing the forest owner match and footing 100% of the bill.




map showing special plants


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