Tips for safe hiking during prescribed burn season at Fontenelle Forest
article by Matt Miller, Manager of Conservation
The fall prescribed fire season is coming soon! Fall burn season typically runs from November to early December. Actual burn dates can fluctuate depending on many factors including weather, wind and leaf conditions. For these reasons it’s impossible to predict exactly what day we will burn, in order to notify members and guests about trail closures as far in advance as we usually would.
We put together this short guide to help hikers understand the reasons, procedures and general timelines for prescribed fire, and how to hike safely at Fontenelle Forest and Neale Woods during prescribed burn season.
Why do we burn on what seem to be the best hiking days?
Prescribed fire is a time-sensitive event. We plan year-round to prepare the areas we want to burn, but the actual burn days are very dependent on the weather.
An example of a great burn day for oak woodlands at Fontenelle Forest is 70 degrees with a relative humidity around 20-30 percent. Unfortunately, this is also an ideal hiking day.
Where can you hike during prescribed burn season?
Luckily, for hikers who love Fontenelle Forest, we have four different trail head access points including: the Nature Center, Camp Wa-Kon-Da, Camp Logan and the Wetlands. Neale Woods, our north Omaha property, is also a great option.
Combined, our two properties include 2,100 acres and 24 miles of trails, so there are endless opportunities for exploration and adventure. So, if your favorite area is being burned that day, we encourage you to take the opportunity to try out some new trails!
What does a closed trail look like?
At Fontenelle Forest we try to be clearly mark all trail closures and reroutes to ensure our visitors are aware that a fire is in progress. Usually, areas where burns are occurring will have orange signage that clearly states “prescribed fire” on the road or in the parking lot leading up to the trail head. Trails will have colored tape that will block a trail head or transition to another trail with a small sign explaining why the trail is closed.
Why do we close the trails during a prescribed fire?
Trails are closed for multiple reasons, with the main objective being the safety of staff and hikers. Prescribed fire has many moving parts. Logistically, fires can become very dangerous if hikers don’t respect the trail or parking lot closures. Smoke, active moving fire, compromised trees and moving UTV’s in low visibility are all hazards that can come into play. These identified hazards are to be respected and can become huge safety concerns if not followed – so please remember that we put these closures in place for your safety and the safety of our staff.
When will my favorite trail open?
After a prescribed fire, Forest staff will continue to evaluate trails for various issues that may potentially crop up. For this reason, trails can remain closed for several days, or in some instances, even weeks after a prescribed burn. Please continue to respect these closures until we announce that the trails have been reopened and the closure signage has been removed.
Things that we are primarily looking for before we open a trail include:
- Is the active fire (leaf creep or burning trees/logs) affecting the trail in unsafe manner?
- Are there compromised trees that could affect the trail and hiker safety?
- What are the weather conditions in the following days?
- Is any restoration happening along the trail following burn that requires a closed trail?
- Are there trees on the trail?
How does burning benefit the Forest?
Prescribed fire is a critical management tool in the toolbox of oak woodland management. Without prescribed fire, our oak woodlands would be in an unhealthy state and would not reach its full potential for regenerating oaks. Fire is a natural process that was here before European settlement. We are utilizing it now to ensure the future of the iconic and native bur oaks at Fontenelle Forest.
We get it. We have favorite trails too! Take this opportunity to find a new “favorite” trail.
As a staff full of individuals who enjoy hiking, we understand the disappointment of having the trail you planned to hike closed. Please remember that closing a trail for prescribed fire and other management techniques is ultimately for your safety, the safety of our staff, the heath of your favorite trail, and ultimately the health of the Forest as a whole.
Fortunately, Fontenelle Forest and Neale Woods have a combined 24 miles of hiking trails for you to explore. Take this opportunity to try a new route and learn about the different ecosystems that can be found in the Forest. You may just discover a new favorite trail!
For the most updated trail closure information, check our website FontenelleForest.org or stop by the Visitors Services desk in the Nature Center before you hit the trails.
WHAT TO EXPECT DURING PRESCRIBED FIRE SEASON
Learn about Fontenelle Forest’s use of prescribed fire and how it benefits the ecosystem.