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30 Stories for 30 Years: ORLT Stewardship Director Dan Crescenzo

Dan, on left, leads a group during a member hike at Tallassee Forest Nature Preserve.

Dan Crescenzo, ORLT’s Stewardship Director, started working for the land trust in 2016 while completing his Ph.D. in philosophy. For anyone who has had the opportunity to monitor a property with Dan or come on a member hike led by him, you may be surprised to learn of Dan’s doctorate in philosophy–his astute understanding of the land and extensive knowledge of plants might rather suggest a background in forestry or ecology. For Dan, working at ORLT has given him the ability to put his passion, for protecting the land and for work that puts him into regular contact with it, into practice. Here, Dan describes a memorable monitoring experience and a description of his favorite habitat and species:

My most memorable monitor story happened about three summers ago when I was monitoring an easement south of Macon with my colleague Hadrian. We were walking an ATV trail, talking as we went, when we began to approach the easement’s blackland prairie – an unusual habitat that has very alkaline soils with extreme shrink-swell properties. I wasn’t looking where I was stepping and at some point, I started to hear something like the chirping of an insect, but not quite. A split second later I realized it was a rattlesnake and froze mid-stride! We looked around, trying to locate the snake in the tall grass and found it only about three feet from where I was standing, right where I’d been about to step! We stayed where we were until it stopped rattling and slowly slid off the trail and into the grass.

Creeping phlox captured here by Dan while monitoring a property.

My favorite habitat that I’ve gotten to know while monitoring is the mesic hardwood forests. I’d known about these before, but I’ve grown to appreciate them more as I’ve seen different examples of them, each with their own unique assortment of ephemeral spring wildflowers – from bloodroot and trillium to Solomon’s seals and wild geraniums. The huge beech trees in some of these forests will take your breath away! My favorite species that I’ve gotten to know while monitoring is the snorkelwort. I’d never known the species existed until I encountered it while monitoring properties with granite outcrops. It only grows in vernal pools on granite outcrops in the GA and SC Piedmont and is listed as a federally threatened species. This tiny species sprouts in the bottom of the pools in the winter, sending up a stem that forms a pair of lily-pad like leaves that float on the surface of the water. As the pool dries up in the spring, it blooms and quickly sets seed which remains dormant throughout the summer when the pools are dry. Then in the following winter, the cycle starts all over again.

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