Mike Kay, Department of Natural Resources Forest

Service and Frederick County Forester, is retiring

Steadily. Quietly. Kindly. For more than 34 years, Mike Kay has worked across every corner of Frederick County to ensure the sustainable stewardship of our trees and forests, thereby helping improve the quality of the air, water, and soils in our County. On January 1, 2022 Mike will enter his well-deserved retirement.

Mike Kay joined the Maryland Forest Service with a B.S. in Forestry from Virginia Tech. He is a Maryland Registered Professional Forester, and a Certified Arborist from the International Society of Arboriculture. Although renowned for his encyclopedic knowledge about trees and forestry, Mike is best known for his humble kindness and quiet sense of humor. His long tenure as the Executive Secretary for the Frederick County Forestry Board stands out for his extraordinary commitment to Frederick County’s natural resources, his dedication to landowners for whom he has developed stewardship plans and encouraged sustainable management of forest resources, in addition to his continuous efforts to educate and instill an appreciation of trees and forests in children and adults alike.

Getting everyone involved has been key to Mike’s success in helping the public understand sustainable forestry. He has successfully achieved this through a long list of programs some of which we will highlight here.

From 1991 onwards, Mike was instrumental in founding and developing the Forestry Demonstration Area at Sugarloaf Mountain. The Forest Demonstration Area was developed to help the public understand different silviculture and harvesting techniques, and to demonstrate the importance of sustainable forest management. The Demonstration Forest identifies five 20-acre compartments, which were each harvested at five-year intervals using the most common practices, namely: Clear-cut, Seed Tree, Shelter wood, Group Selection, and Single Tree Selection. The observer thus obtains a visual side-by-side representation of common forest harvest practices, as well as a long-term comparative view of forest succession and regrowth resulting from these activities.

In 2005, Mike created the initial Site Plan for Waterford Park detailing the state of the park and recommended improvements, providing the newly-formed group Friends of Waterford Park with a framework for action. In 2006, he secured a grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust for 400 trees to develop a buffer along Carroll Creek. Subsequently, Mike planted seedlings, assisted after flooding with chainsaw work, and provided advice regarding plantings and maintenance.

Mike Kay directing a tree planting in 2005.Photo credit: Frederick News Post File Photos

From 2010 to 2015, Mike organized multi-year tree plantings in Woodsboro to establish a forest buffer to protect the water quality by recruiting students, interested members of the public, and Forestry Board members. For every tree planting he arranged in his career, Mike went the extra mile to find the trees and the volunteers to help plant them. He also made sure to always find a way to thank everyone.

Buffer planting at Woodsboro, spring 2014.Credit: James Arnold (Former Board Member)

Countless other planting projects were developed and enhanced by Mike in many other areas of Frederick County including Thurmont, Walkersville, Wolfsville, Myersville, and Frederick.

During Mike's career, many new species of invasive plants and insects appeared in Maryland requiring quick turn-around assessment and action plan development to counteract the detrimental effects on forests. Mike has achieved great success through education and guidance to meet these continuously evolving challenges.

Mike helps volunteers plant trees around Thurmont’s Skateboard ParkCredit: - Sonia Demiray

As an educator, Mike served as an instructor at the weeklong Covert training camp, availing his wealth of forestry knowledge for several decades. Mike also taught at the Natural Resources Careers Camp since 1991, an annual camp for high-schoolers in Maryland. Not to mention teaching children and adults alike about how, when, and what to plant where, during tree planting events over the last 34.5 years.

Mike gives Boy Scouts a Forestry Lecture on Merit Badge Day, 2018. Credit: - Claude Eans
Mike Kay explains how to plant trees to students at Wolfsville Elementary School in May 2021Credit: - Sonia Demiray

For Landowners, one of the joys of developing a Forest Stewardship Plan has always been walking their property with Mike Kay, as he easily communicates his knowledge in an understandable manner. In 2020, Mike received the prestigious National Tree Farm Inspector of the Year Award from the American Tree Farm System. This was the first time this prestigious citation was awarded in Maryland since its establishment 82 years ago. Mike easily ranked as the most productive inspector, completing 62 Tree Farm inspections in 2020 totaling 17,405 acres, about half of the 122 tree farms registered in Frederick County.

Mike and land owner checking on and documenting a Healthy Forest-Healthy Waters planting Nov 2018. Credit: - Vince Perrotta

Mike also received the American Tree Farm System Gold Hard Hat Award, having enrolled a total of 188 new Tree Farms over his 33-year career. This national award honors Tree Farm inspectors who give of their time to inspect Tree Farms and work to educate landowners and the public of the benefits of sustainable forestry.

One of Mike’s most recent initiatives is the Catoctin Stewardship Initiative, which invites landowners in one of the most vulnerable ecosystems within the Catoctin Watershed to associate in order to combine resources and begin managing the area at landscape scale. Mike combined the forces of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay to kick off this initiative with a full day educational seminar.

Mike Kay explains what a “bog” is prior to a forest walk during the Catoctin Stewardship Initiative. 9/20/2021Credit: - Sonia Demiray

Mike has been an excellent leader and inspired enthusiasm in all Frederick County Forestry Board members over more than 34 years. He has made friends with every one of us during our monthly meetings, tree plantings, program development, tree measuring, tree farm and logging site inspections, Scout Merit Badge training, Public Library lectures, NRCC classes, stewardship plan developments, and many other activities. The information shared by Mike is always valuable. His dedication unmatched. His manner kind. We wish Mike all the best in his retirement and are thrilled that he plans to assist the Board, henceforth, as a citizen volunteer. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Article by Tom Anderson and Sonia Demiray with the Frederick County Forest Conservancy District Board

View Mike Kays photo album