Darryl Wood and Toby Wollin


Member Profile:

Darryl Wood and Toby Wollin

by Dorian Hyland

While he moved around for his education, Darryl Wood, native to Tampa, Florida, moved first to Utah for college and then to Binghamton, NY for graduate school. In Binghamton he met his wife, Toby Wollin, and despite having experienced some dramatic landscapes, there they stayed. New York State has the kind of landscape that invites you to become part of it. They lived in Binghamton and worked at the university for over thirty years. After retiring from the university, he took another full-time job for the New York State United Teachers. Then in 2014 they bought 123 acres of woods and former farm.

Even before they bought their land, they were early pioneers of protecting the environment. They refused to use pesticides or herbicides in their vegetable gardening and tried as much as possible to be organic long before that became chic. They have maintained that principle for over forty years. When they bought their land in the town of Norwich, Chenango county, they felt it was an opportunity to live that principle in a more focused and complete way.

Their land, about half of which is forested, was bought for two reasons: 1.) to stay active in retirement through business and recreation and 2.) as a legacy for their family of two daughters, one son and five grandchildren. All decisions about how to develop the land for various purposes, as well as improving the health of the woods, are made jointly and equally between Toby and Darryl.

They sought information from multiple sources. Their primary sources for developing and learning new ideas are NYFOA, ForestConnect and My Woodlot. In addition to studying and reading, their consulting forester, Mike Blasko, has been a wonderful resource and assisted them in developing a management plan that meets their goals. Their 29-year-old son partners with them with the physical labor necessary to improve the land by improving the health and profitability of the woods.

They purchased their property to fulfill their desire for woods, but they wanted that farm because it had land that could be utilized in support of their objectives. The property contains three fields — 5, 10, and 25 acres. The remaining acres are forested. The medium-sized field is sloped, and the other two mostly level. All the fields were either pastured or hayed, or both, and they have been enhancing these since they arrived. There is a pond, inhabited by beavers, that is about half an acre in size. The most beautiful part of the property is a ravine where waters collect to form a stream. As one expects, the ravine is sheltered by hemlocks on rocky slopes. Besides these water features, the land has several vernal ponds and a swampy acre.

Originally part of a 600 acre farm, their property was parceled off with some of the surrounding area still forested. The woods are filled with a wide variety of trees with significant amounts of ash, sugar and red maple, black cherry, hickory, and oaks. A few butternut fill the list and a few apples trees remain. Along the edges of fields and open areas, honeysuckle took hold. The fields were encumbered by multiflora rose, thorn apple, beech, and ironwood.When they bought the property they learned that about five acres had been used as Norwich’s town dump. Although covered in 6-10 inches of top soil, old farm equipment, tires and other items float to the surface. Since they knew of the dump before the purchase, Toby and Darryl made peace with it.

To address the business purpose of their plan, they planted 800 sugar maples for future tapping and hardwood production. They also meticulously grew 100 black walnut from nuts. They created a one-acre patch of blueberries for future U-Pick and are planting hazelnuts for another U-Pick enterprise. They are germinating northern pecan nuts for planting. All these nut trees, including the butternut, will create a nut grove for future harvests. This presented a major undertaking but a good business plan.

The business plan is not solely for Toby and Darryl’s benefit. This is a legacy for their grandchildren as most of the trees will not mature for many years. Their hope is to involve the grandchildren in the management of the property as well as the businesses, so as to encourage them to maintain the health of the property and keep it within the family. If someday they decide to sell, they will know the value of a well-maintained, united parcel and it will be more profitable for them.

One of the first tasks they undertook five years ago was reclaiming the fields from honeysuckle and multiflora rose, which took two years, and a lot of backbreaking work. Once done, they were ready to plant trees and blueberry patches. They participate in the NYS Forest Tax Law 480(a), and have also successfully applied for an NRCS grant for TSI (timber stand improvement) to manage the invasive shrub species. They have kept to their principles of nearly forty years ago and avoided the use of chemicals; what could not be brush-hogged was cut with a chainsaw. Darryl and his son removed the invasive shrubs and chipped what could be chipped, using it for mulch, a thorough and wise use of natural resources. As Darryl said, “devilish plants!” Initially, Darryl thought to clear some thorn apples and then chose to leave them. Plans develop, but plans also can change. Their forester, Mike Blasko completed the TSI.

Perhaps the biggest change since they bought the land was an ash harvest before the TSI began. As a result of the ash harvest and the TSI, the forest canopy was opened significantly, allowing the good trees to grow even better. Adding to the growth of trees and changes to the property, the clearing of the fields allowed them to plant native tree species to restore the fields to their natural state. An important source of seedlings has been the DEC Tree Nursery, and they chose only native New York trees. These and the nut trees germinated from seed will form the basis for reclaiming the fields and reverting it to forest, fulfilling their goal of recreating as much as possible the forests prevalent hundreds of years ago.

Through the process of owning and managing a woodlot, Darryl and Toby have developed new skills, utilized existing skills, and enjoyed greater physical activity. Physical labor has been rigorous. Record keeping, because it is a business as well as recreational land, has taken time and effort. With a full-time job, devoting enough time to get it all done is problematic. Through the hard work of Toby, Darryl, their son, and an excellent forester they have been able to accomplish much.

Woodlot management involves the use of several “toys.” To house all the equipment needed, they built a barn, 24 feet by 32 feet. It filled quickly with a 45hp Kubota tractor, a brushhog, a rototiller, and a chipper. All three run on the tractor’s PTO. They wore out several chains cutting the honeysuckle. Last year Darryl took time to take the Game of Logging training and wishes he’d taken it earlier. While there were fortunately no mishaps, the safety tricks he learned have been invaluable.

Based on five years of intensive labor and preparation, Darryl suggests that people starting out with a woodlot should determine clearly the goals they have for the land, answer questions such as why you own this land, and what do you expect from owning it? Next, gather a group of advisors to help you reach your goals, which should include a consulting forester, NYFOA, other forest owners, and the internet. “While you shouldn’t believe everything others tell you, or what you read, or allow them to direct your decisions, let them challenge you and your goal,” Darryl advised.

From the beginning, they wanted to restore their property to its natural beauty based on their long-held principles of good stewardship. These ideals prompted their dedication to wise, informed forest management; this has given them peace. Thus, they planted only native trees and avoided unnatural chemicals. These practices allow them to anticipate leaving to their grandchildren a land of good value. Being in the woods, hearing only its silence, gazing at a hawk making lazy circles in the sky, noticing a fox 20 yards away hunting for a meal, catching a glimpse of a doe and her fawn sprinting away at the sound of their footsteps, and the sheer physical enjoyment of working all day to make a difference in this land, these are the benefits of good stewardship. Toward sharing these benefits, they allow neighbors to hike their woods and they held a woodswalk for the Southern Tier chapter of NYFOA in May.

They agree that they have reaped the benefits they now enjoy through the magazine and website, which provide information and practices to discuss, analyze, and implement as appropriate. Specific presentations in the Southern Tier on American chestnut, apple grafting, wild bees, mushrooms, and others were fascinating and provided information for new options on their land. Finally, meeting and talking with other forest owners at those presentations gives Darryl and Toby a special social outlet and a wealth of information to continue their management practices.

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