Bulletin #27: How to Manage Community Natural Areas


document English | Español


Managing natural areas may sound like a contradiction of terms. But your help is needed if remnants of woodlands are to survive in the nooks and crannies of our cities and towns.

These unique communities of life need protection from the inroads of development. Even more, they need active management to prevent deterioration from abuse and neglect.


This is the free, digital version of Bulletin #27. Purchase the full bulletin for the complete content.

Where Are Natural Areas?

Natural woodlands are found in communities of all sizes. Just across the Potomac from our nation’s teeming capitol, 43 acres of verdant forest can be found in Alexandria, Virginia. In little Nebraska City, Nebraska, ancient oaks and tenacious berry bushes grace the edges of Table Creek, much as they did when Arbor Day Founder J. Sterling Morton lived at nearby Arbor Lodge. Tracts of woods can be found almost everywhere, occupying the land so unobtrusively they are too often virtually ignored and taken for granted.

In your community, look for natural areas in places like these:

  • Municipal, county and regional parks. These are the most common locations of community natural areas.
  • Buffers around zoos, industrial sites and other large public or private facilities.
  • Arboretums that have managers who value native vegetation as well as exotic trees.
  • Edges of rivers and creeks. A plant community here is called riparian habitat and often contains a unique assemblage of life.
  • Golf courses. Older courses are often fringed or divided with woodlands. In Ocean City, Maryland, when a new golf course was developed, the owners saved 90 acres of woods and wetlands on a 200-acre site. Their goal was to demonstrate environmental responsibility and their reward has been a booming business from golfers who appreciate the beauty and serenity of the natural scene.
  • Residential property. Old estates slated for subdivision and new areas planned on former farm land are particularly rich in woods.
  • Abandoned industrial sites, particularly along rivers where vegetation quickly reclaims the site.
  • School property. In some cases, innovative teachers convert the woodlands on their own grounds into marvelous outdoor laboratories.
  • Greenways. Flood plains, old railroad beds and utility rights-of-way offer recreational pathways, often adjacent to natural strips of vegetation. In China, “bamboo beltways” are planned to link panda preserves; in the U.S., greenways could just as easily link communities.
  • Landfills. With the passage of time, the waste piles of humanity can support rich areas of vegetation. Near Toronto, excavated materials dumped at the edge of Lake Ontario became so natural looking that there was an outcry from citizens when development was suggested for waterfront recreation!

How to Install Water Bars

Water bars are devices that divert rain runoff from trails before the water can gain enough volume and speed to cause erosion. Here is a way to install water bars that are effective and stay in place.

illustration of person digging trench at 30-degree angle

1. Dig trench across path at 30-degree angle

illustration of person placing log into trench

2. Place log or waste lumber in trench, extending it beyond the path in both directions.

illustration of rocks on downside of log

3. Place rocks and/or stakes on downhill side.

cross-section of ideal water bar

4. Fill in any space in trench so finished cross section looks like this.

% Slope Distance Between Bars
1400'
5125'
1078'
1558'
2047'
3035'
4029'

More Information

Call 1-888-448-7337 Monday–Friday 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM CST


Tree City USA is an Arbor Day Foundation program in cooperation with:
United States Forest Service Logo Urban and Community Forestry Logo National Association of State Foresters Logo