For urban forester Kyle Dingus, Loudoun is a tree-lover’s paradise.
“If you’re a tree nerd, this is a cool county to be in,” Dingus said. “If you look at Loudoun and the Virginia Piedmont as a whole, it’s an ecological crossroads. You have species from the Coastal Plain coming in and meeting mountain species. We’re the northernmost range for some species and the southernmost range for [others] …We have absolutely amazing soils for tree growth.”
Dingus, who’s officially been the county government’s tree guru since early 2019, is a familiar face in Loudoun’s environmental community thanks to his five previous years as field forester for the Virginia Department of Forestry. Dingus has been a regular guest at nature walks at Purcellville’s Chapman-DeMary trail in past years, getting both adults and kids excited about trees and conservation. This Saturday, Dingus leads a program called The Life of Forests at Morven Park in cooperation with the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy.
Dingus, who is part of the natural resource team within the county’s Department of Building and Development, handles just about everything tree-related in Loudoun, from review of tree conservation and forest management plans to field visits and monitoring threats to trees from insects, disease and weather.
“We want safe infrastructure and happy trees,” Dingus said. “We know that when trees are established in a community and doing well, there are a lot of great secondary benefits.”
Educational outreach is one of Dingus’ favorite parts of the job. The self-described “tree nerd” is somewhat unusual among the forestry crowd because he’s also a people person.
“A lot of foresters want to be in the woods all the time, but I realize that your tree knowledge isn’t worth very much if we can’t translate that to folks and make them inspired,” DIngus said. “I really love teaching, and I think that if you want folks to care about trees, we should inspire them with the knowledge of why trees are great and why they’re a really important part of our community. A lot of good things happen because trees are here.”
Dingus’ Life of Forests talk starts out with basic tree biology and moves on to the ecology of forests, how they develop and how they’re managed over time. If time allows, Dingus will lead participants on a short exploration of Morven Park’s tree landscape.
“What I always love to do for people to help them understand that when we look at a landscape, when we look at a forest, we can read it like a book if we know what to look for. … I can read that ecosystem and know a bunch of secondary things,” he said. “My goal is to have a good time, have fun and learn about cool trees. I find if you can inspire a love of trees, you get more ownership and more buy-in for conservation.”
Dingus, who grew up in Culpeper County and earned his forestry degree from Virginia Tech in 2012, is a longtime nature lover and outdoorsman and was fascinated with trees from a young age. Tree species and growth patterns have always caught his eye, but along with the fascinating science involved with forestry, trees also have a philosophical appeal.
“They just have a calming effect on me,” Dingus said. “Trees are just innately peaceful.”
In addition to his day-to-day role working with developers to meet county standards for tree conservation and fielding questions and complaints from residents, Dingus runs the county’s annual Arbor Day photo contest. It’s a favorite not just because of the gorgeous photos, he said, but also the stories residents send in about the trees they love and why they love them. Dingus also operates Loudoun’s Big Tree Registry, which keeps track of the county’s beloved giants, many of which have been witnesses to history.
“When you go to a historical site like Oatlands, you have the buildings which were there at the time, but some of the trees were also alive at the time,” he said. “It’s really cool when you go up to those trees, and you can put your hand on them and say, ‘Wow, this thing was growing at the time all this history was happening.’”
Kyle Dingus’ Life of Forests program takes place Saturday, Feb. 29 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Stone Barn at Morven Park, 17195 Southern Planter Lane, Leesburg. The program is free, but advance registration is required. For more information and registration, go to loudounwildlife.org