Walter and Theresa Kersch

Walter and Theresa (Terri) Kersch own and live on over 700 acres of forest in Poestenkill, NY, which they acquired through the purchase of several major parcels starting in 1972. Walter is originally from Western New York where he grew up on a large dairy farm. In the seventh grade he was making maple syrup and selling it wholesale, growing an acre of strawberries and chopping firewood with his father. In fact “he didn’t know that there was another way to heat a home.” After graduating from State University of New York at Oswego, Walter taught math in Angola, NY. Walter earned his Master’s Degree in Counseling at Canisius College and moved to the Capital District in 1964, where he completed advanced certification in School Administration and assumed the position of Berlin Junior–Senior High School Principal in 1969, retiring in 1989.

With his experiences from childhood, Walter has always had an interest in woodlands. After graduating from SUNY Oswego, Walter bought a large farm in Western New York, which he planted entirely in Christmas trees. During the 60’s he was supplying Tampa, FL with 6,000 Christmas trees a year.

When the Kersch’s moved to Poestenkill in 1969 their property included only 10 acres with a little bit of forest. Walter planted a few hundred Christmas trees on this land. When a 400-acre contiguous parcel came up for sale, the Kersches bought it, with the intention of protecting the land from future development. Since that time they have added 4 additional contiguous parcels for a total of 769 acres.

The history of this land tract reflects the area’s agricultural background. In the 1800’s the property held a number of small farms. In the late 1800’s trees on this property were cut to make charcoal needed by the Burden Iron Works in Troy, NY. You can still find charcoal pits all over the property. Since the land was cleared for charcoal, it has completely and naturally grown into a mixed hardwood forest.

Walter’s land is now primarily a hardwood and mixed hemlock forest. Walter says he has found only one oak of any mentionable size, a white oak, on the property, but there are several smaller four to five foot tall oaks starting to grow. The property boasts a 350 feet elevation differential which creates drainage for the forest and also affects the species composition in its wet and dry areas.

The unique parcels on this property pose interesting management challenges, which are met with diverse plans. Walter worked with forester Mike Greason to enroll one of the parcels in the 480A program. Two of the parcels have DEC Stewardship Management Plans. Another parcel underwent a timber stand improvement in the 70’s and has been left to grow. Another parcel had been high graded four times while Walter has known the property, so most of the wood value has been removed. The Kersches used cherry Walter cut from their property for the floors, woodwork and trim in their newly built home. He also collected stones from the property for the front of the house. Walter reflects, “I spent about six months going around to all the stone walls collecting stones and my artist builder rejected about half of them.”

The main management challenge on the Kersch’s property is managing invasive species. Most of the attention is given to beech, which Walter sprays to prevent regrowth and spread. Hay-scented fern has opportunistically and aggressively taken over areas where light permeates the canopy. This makes new cutting and management particularly challenging. For example, in the parcel that underwent the TSI in the 70’s a special strategy has to be planned in order to cut trees and not allow the fern to grown in. Walter’s strategy is to only cut a very limited number of trees at each cut, allowing the canopy time to regrow.

As owners of woodlands the Kersches spent a substantial amount of time determining what they wanted to do with their land that would allow people to appreciate and enjoy it but also would preserve the quality of the forest. They considered putting in a campground. Then Walter, a downhill skier and instructor, went with his family to a family run cross-country ski resort where they got the inspiration to develop and operate Pineridge Cross Country Ski Area. Pineridge has 35 km of machined groomed trails as well as 15 km of un-groomed backcountry trails, which are also used for snowshoeing. The trails are specifically designed to give guests an opportunity to experience the forest. The trails are narrow, only 8-10 feet wide, and the forest has closed over the top of many. It took Walter over a week and a half to design one trail to go past a unique forked tree.

The couple also uses the property for hunting. A group of about 12 dedicated hunters is out in the woods almost every day during the season hunting deer and bear. There are also signs of moose on the property, including tracks in the snow and damage to striped maples. Walter believes that there is a population of 20-25 moose that live on the Rensselaer Plateau where his property is located. During woods walks many participants enjoy seeing the signs of bear claws on the beech trees.

Walter enjoys his forest lands for the wildlife but also for the challenge and joy of building trails. His ATV service provider refers to him as the high-mileage man (his last ATV had eight or nine thousand miles). In the time that they have owned their woodlands Walter has become even more knowledgeable about forest management by becoming a Master Forest Owner volunteer, through extensive reading, and work with foresters. He uses his knowledge to mark trees and manage cuts in his forest. He is presently arranging 60-cord firewood cut. In addition, he is the go-to forest person and Board Member for Rensselaer County Cooperative Extension. Walter highly recommends that forest owners become members of NYFOA and other related organizations because of networks available through such groups. These organizations support the private landowner and help with management questions. His work through all of these venues, Cornell Cooperation Extension, NYFOA and the Rensselaer Plateau Alliance help to educate forest landowners about their property. Walter is in the forest every day and works hard to help others create beautiful and healthy woodlands that can be appreciated and enjoyed.

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