The N.C. Forest Service has a long history of working with its military partners around the state. That relationship took an additional step forward when the NCFS and the U.S. Navy came to a three-year agreement on using part of Bladen Lakes State Forest for military training exercises.
“I want to thank all those who were involved in the process of bringing this agreement to a successful completion,” said Michael Chesnutt, Bladen Lakes State Forest supervisor. “I am pleased the North Carolina Forest Service is able to work with the military to provide another place in which to train our warriors.”
The Navy is training on about 700 acres of land located at the southernmost edge of the forest, adjacent to the north bank of the Cape Fear River near Singletary Lake. This area is located on the 4,686-acre portion of the forest, between N.C. Highway 53 and the Cape Fear River. The forest contains about 32,800 acres in total.
“The Bladen Lakes State Forest is a vital component to our training continuum. No other location affords us the ability to conduct riverine training in such a realistic, pristine environment,” said Fred Sizemore, assistant director for the Center for Security Forces Learning Site Camp Lejeune. “With limited infrastructure, isolated locations and rugged terrain, Bladen Lakes State Forest is an ideal location for coastal riverine training.”
Citizens concerned that the forest will lose its pristine nature should not worry, as the Navy agreed to leave the area as they found it. The Navy conducts low-impact ground training exercises such as insertion and extraction of ground forces, mock ambushes, patrolling, medical evacuations and mock treatments. Although they use blank munitions during training, pyrotechnics, non-lethal training ammunition and smoke grenades must be deemed safe and approved for use by the NCFS. In other words, the use of these devices must be approved for times when they are not likely to cause a fire.
“We must be able to accomplish our training mission effectively without disrupting the environment,” said Larry McFarland, executive director of the Center for Security Forces. “The U.S. Navy has a strong track record of environmental stewardship and it’s important we continue that tradition. The local users of the forest must be considered and successfully communicated with as we conduct training and carry out this mission.”
The Navy conducts no more than eight nine-day training sessions per year. However, the Navy will not conduct training in Bladen Lakes State Forest April 1-May 20 and Sept. 15-Jan. 1 to allow for turkey and deer hunting seasons.
Chesnutt also would like to assure the forest’s various user groups that the ongoing military operations should in no way adversely affect their activities. “While Bladen Lakes State Forest’s primary function is to demonstrate the benefits of good forest management, we also have a lot of folks who come here for a variety of recreational activities,” he said. “One of our goals as a demonstration forest is to show how you can manage your forest for a variety of goals, including recreation and, in this case, military training.”
Bladen Lakes State Forest has more than 180 miles of trails and paths for use by the public, including horseback riding and some limited camping. These activities all require a special-use permit, which can be obtained for free at the office Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information about Bladen Lakes State Forest, call 910-588-4964 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.