Belt Woods

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Belt Woods
National Natural Landmark
Country  United States of America
State  Maryland
County Prince George's
Coordinates 38°54′18″N 76°45′47″W / 38.90505°N 76.76304°W / 38.90505; -76.76304Coordinates: 38°54′18″N 76°45′47″W / 38.90505°N 76.76304°W / 38.90505; -76.76304
Area 43 acres (17.4 ha)
Established December 1974
Owner Maryland Department of Natural Resources
IUCN category III - Natural Monument
Location of Belt Woods in Maryland
Website: Belt Woods
Designated 1974
Bole of a massive tulip poplar in Belt Woods
Deadfall in Belt Woods

Belt Woods is a nature reserve in Prince George's County, Maryland, U.S., containing the “South Woods”, a 43-acre (170,000 m2) woodland which constitutes one of the last stands of old growth hardwood forest on the Atlantic coastal plain. It is a mere 8 miles (13 km) east of Washington, D.C. Many of its white oaks and tulip poplars are more than three feet in diameter and soar more than 100 feet (30 m) before branching. The “South Woods” were designated a National Natural Landmark in 1974.

Belt Woods has been owned and protected by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources since the 1980s.[when?][citation needed] Some 110 acres (0.45 km2) at the site are designated a Natural Environment Area (NEA) and another 515 acres (2.08 km2) are designated a Heritage Conservation Fund (HCF) site. Thus 625 acres (2.53 km2) are protected in total. Within this area, the Maryland General Assembly has designated 610 acres (2.5 km2) — 109 acres (0.44 km2) within the NEA and 501 acres (2.03 km2) within the HCF — as a special Maryland Wildland.[1]


Belt Woods is part of the former farm of semi-reclusive banker and gentleman farmer, Seton Belt (1870–1959). A bird breeding census first surveyed the tract in 1947; the density of Forest Interior Dwelling Species (FIDS) was then found to be 300 pairs/100 acres (1300 m² per pair). The oaks of the “North Woods”, an old-growth similar to the now-preserved “South Woods” tract, were all cut in 1981, despite the fact that Belt had stipulated in his will that the stand was never to be logged. Tom Horton, in his book Bay Country (1987), tells how this happened:

The bank entrusted with administering Seton Belt’s estate, and the church to which he left his goods, found that the forest earned the highest accolades not just from naturalists and woodland songbirds. “Veneer quality”, eager buyers from the world’s leading timber concerns adjudged the massive, knot-free, straight trunks of the oaks. Debarked, steamed until soft, then sliced and peeled on huge machines into sheets just 1/4-inch thick, just a few of the Beltwoods giants would decorate acres of executive conference-room walls in warm wood tones. The church said it needed the money over and above the $10 million that old Belt had left it to build an urban home for the elderly. With the bank, it broke the will in court, and half the mighty Beltwoods fell to the chainsaw….The forester hired by the bank explained to me his satisfaction when the veneer deal went through. From the standpoint of annual, new cellulose production, he said, the old oaks were well into the area of diminishing returns, even though they might live another century or two. “The only thing left for that particular stand of trees to do was to die and fall over”, he said[2]

This event served as a wakeup call to conservationists and an 18-year legal battle ensued between them and the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. In 1984, the state of Maryland, with partners, purchased 110 acres (0.45 km2) including the “South Woods”, designating them the Belt Woods Natural Environmental Area. Impending residential development necessitated the state’s purchase of an additional 515 acres (2.08 km2) in 1997 — known as the Belt Woods Heritage Conservation Fund site. The HCF site, which consists of the former “North” and “Central Woods” (now young forest and fields), buffers the old growth forest and forestalls further development. In all, some 625 acres (2.53 km2) are protected at the site, of which most (610 acres) were designated by the Maryland General Assembly in October 1997 as the Belt Woods Wildland. Access to Belt Woods is limited to scientific study.



Belt Woods lies within the Southeastern mixed forests ecoregion.[3] It consists of a mosaic of small fields and woodlands and is a critical nesting area for neotropical songbirds. The density of birds breeding there is among the highest observed on the east coast. Unusually high densities of FIDS birds prevail. In 1989, the breeding bird census, which uses a territory mapping method, measured a density of more than 200 pairs/100 acres (40 ha) of FIDS, attributable largely to high densities of wood thrush and red-eyed vireo. Nine other species of FIDS birds regularly breed there, including the Kentucky warbler.


The canopy of the mesic upland hardwood forest at Belt Woods is dominated by tulip poplar and white oak. Old-growth characteristics include 200-year-old trees of over 140 feet (45 m) in height. Forty-two species of trees were measured in the “South Woods” in 2001.[4] Prominent understory trees include flowering dogwood, spicebush, sweet haw and ironwood. The herbaceous layer, which is exceptionally dense in springtime, includes Collinsonia, Dioscorea, and broad beechfern. The narrowleaf glade fern and Wister’s coralroot — both Maryland state threatened species — grow here.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ “DNR Owned Land Acreage Report, 2008” Archived 2015-05-18 at the Wayback Machine.; Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
  2. ^ Horton, Tom (1987), Bay Country, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, pg 19.
  3. ^ Olson, D. M; E. Dinerstein; et al. (2001). "Terrestrial Ecoregions of the World: A New Map of Life on Earth". BioScience. 51 (11): 933–938. doi:10.1641/0006-3568(2001)051[0933:TEOTWA]2.0.CO;2. Archived from the original on 2011-10-14. 
  4. ^ Rucker, Colby B. (2001), Report: “Belt Woods: Tree Heights and Forest Structure in the South Woods” at the Eastern Native Tree Society Website

External links[edit]