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.”