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Editorial: Hitchcock Woods should be appreciated, preserved

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Hitchcock Woods is one of the nation's largest urban forests.

Hitchcock Woods is one of Aiken's many treasures, and is enjoyed by both locals and visitors alike.

The Festival of the Woods, held last Friday, was a celebration of one of the nation's largest urban forests. The celebration included a fundraiser for the Hitchcock Woods Foundation as well as a nature hike for Mead Hall students.

The school’s fifth- and sixth-graders explored the 2,100-acre preserve used by equestrians, walkers, joggers and hikers, learning about different habitats and looking for evidence of wildlife and prehistoric inhabitants.

“Hitchcock Woods is a treasure – to have one of the largest urban forests here right in the center of Aiken,” said Darlene Smalley, who helped to lead the eco-hike. “We’ve got 70 miles of trails to explore where only walkers and horseback riders are allowed. That’s a special opportunity. It’s important for kids to get out and connect with nature, and Hitchcock Woods is a fantastic place to do that.”

We couldn't agree more. It is important for the younger generation to appreciate Hitchcock Woods for the wonderful and unique natural resource it is. Understanding the importance of the woods and their connection to the history of Aiken and its environment hopefully will make these students more invested in preserving it for future generations.

“These students need to know where they came from, know who was here and know their place on the planet,” said Carl Steen, president of the Diachronic Research Foundation. “Hopefully, they’ll take a lesson that we’re not the only ones who were ever here and that we need to leave it to our children better.”

In addition to raising awareness for the woods, The Festival of the Woods also is a fundraiser for the Hitchcock Woods Foundation.

This year's festival was attended by more than 300 people, and featured exhibits on subjects including the reintroduction of red-cockaded woodpeckers last year to Hitchcock Woods and artifacts found during a Cultural Resources Survey. 

The Foundation should be commended for its efforts to return the woods to a longleaf pine ecosystem. 

Naturalist, activist and award-winning writer, Janisse Ray praised the Foundation during the Festival, saying “I am struck this time by the changes. I don’t know if you remember what it looked like five years ago and if you can see how much you have been able to take this place back to being God’s idea of what a longleaf pine forest should look like.”

Hitchcock Woods is as much a part of Aiken as The Winter Colony and the Blessing of the Hounds. It offers a respite from the bustle of daily life and gives a glimpse into Aiken's past.

It provides a home for red-cockaded woodpeckers and a playground for equestrians.

“I have been walking in the Woods since I was able to walk,” Stephanie Wilds said. “It is right in the center of Aiken, and it is such a beautiful, peaceful place. I love listening to the sound of the wind in the pines.”

Hitchcock Woods is an important piece of Aiken's history and we must do all we can to make sure it endures for future generations.

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