PORTFOLIO: Montpelier

James Madison’s Montpelier – Orange County, Va (2007-present)

Montpelier, home of James Madison, contains 2,623 acres of rolling pasture and woodland in Orange County, Virginia. It is currently owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and managed by the Montpelier Foundation. Almost 1,600 acres of the property is composed by mature yellow poplar and many other high grade Appalachian hardwoods.

In 2007, the Montpelier Foundation hired VFWG to write a Forest Stewardship Management Plan for the property. This plan was updated in 2015 to reflect changes in administration and management of the timberlands. For both reports, the entire tract was “cruised” to determine where logging would be a feasible. Due the historic nature of the property and its heavy recreational use by the public, many forested areas are largely off limits to logging. The purpose of the stewardship plans was to determine where logging could occur and to design practices that would mitigate the impact to unique or sensitive resources. Once the stewardship plan was prepared, we implemented a schedule of logging activities to generate income while preserving important viewsheds, archaeological sites (Madison era and Civil War camps), and unique woodlands such as the “Landmark Forest”, a 200 acre old growth preserve behind the mansion.

In 2009, we helped to develop the 30 acre “Montpelier Demonstration Forest”. The purpose of the Demonstration Forest was to educate landowners and the public about sustainable forest management practices – practices used by Montpelier to achieve multiple-use objectives that include protection of soil and water quality, historic resources, and scenic values while improving the overall health, quality and productivity of the woodlands. A one-mile loop trail was established that passes through a mature woodland of tulip poplar and oak. Along this trail are six stops or stations that tell a different story about what we (as woodland managers) tried to achieve in our management of the timber, including selective management, “timber stand improvement” in immature hardwood stands, oak regeneration and conversion of an unproductive old field site to a beautiful wildlife/wildflower meadow. At each stop, the condition of the forest “before and after” thinning is described. The management of Montpelier’s forestland has been a unique and sometimes demanding exercise – one that involves working with assorted staff (archaeologists, horticulturists, historians) who have different interests and perspectives. This has placed a premium on teamwork and conflict resolution, especially between logging and other land-uses, such as preservation of archaeological resources.

More recently, we have conducted second thinnings in some of the loblolly pine plantations, some of which were thinned more heavily to create an open pine “savannah” that will encourage the growth of native grasses and improved quail habitat. We also are converting some of the low grade Virginia pine stands to native meadow. Lastly, we have begun eradicating invasives species in and around the mansion and grounds using government cost-share funds.


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"When I bought my farm, I did not know what a bargain I had in the bluebirds, daffodils and thrushes; as little did I know what sublime mornings and sunsets I was buying."

~Ralph Waldo Emerson