ABBEVILLE, Ala. — When Glenn and Scarlett Riley inherited some family property outside of Abbeville in 2004, becoming tree farmers — let alone the best tree farmers in the country — wasn’t on their radar.
The plan was to set up a mobile home on the property and occasionally visit when the couple, who then resided in the Mobile area, needed a few quiet days in the country. As the Rileys spent more time there, the place grew on them, as the childhood sweethearts had spent many days on the property in their youth. Glenn had even proposed to Scarlett there 58 years ago.
Glenn, a retired grocer, and Scarlett, who had worked alongside her husband in his business ventures, built a home on the property and decided to make a go at tree farming.
“It’s been a lot of hard work, but it’s a great way to live during this part of our lives,” Scarlett said. “We can share it with our family, friends, church and some organizations.”
Using the same planning and attention to detail that made Glenn a success in the grocery business, Glenn relentlessly began to tackle learning best practices in tree farming and applying them. He sought assistance from the state forestry service and learned how to manage his land and keep his trees safe from insects and other threats.
He also learned how to best deal with the scourge of the southern property owner – kudzu.
“I’ve tried a lot of things to see if they work,” he said. “Some have and some have not. I’ve got proof to show you both.”
Now, nearly 13 years later, Glenn and Scarlett have won the 2017 National Outstanding Tree Farmers of The Year award from the American Tree Farm System. The award recognized the Rileys’ proficiency in managing their land and their commitment to education and wildlife preservation.
“I think God put us here to fulfill a purpose, and we are trying to do that,” Scarlett said.
Glenn said, “It’s really not work. We feel like it’s a really big front yard and you want to take care of your front yard. It’s made it a home for us.”
Glenn enjoys giving tours of the 300-acre property, located outside Abbeville. His 13-year-old Australian Shepherd dog, Princess, often comes along for the ride.
He’ll show you the fire lanes he’s carved out to keep the property safe during controlled burns, the ponds he’s stocked with fish, and the longleaf and loblolly pine trees he’s planted. He’ll also show you the street signs that Scarlett has made for each fire lane on the property. Each lane is named for a family member.
Glenn is particularly proud of the Classroom in the Trees project he set up on the property, which consists of six stations that each illustrate a lesson about forestry. Each year, about 250 fifth-graders visit the property.
Glenn said his commitment to the annual event was solidified when children attending the event told them it was their first experience in a forest.
Another point of pride for Glenn is the work he’s done to preserve gopher tortoise habitats on the property. Glenn has marked 41 gopher tortoise burrows on the property. Glenn marks the burrows to ensure they’re not disturbed by the operations of the tree farm.
Faith is an important part of Glenn and Scarlett’s lives. Religiously themed signs designed by Scarlett are scattered throughout the tree farm.
One of the couple’s favorite spots is a natural spring Glenn found. A sign that says “Living Waters” is hung from a tree nearby, and there’s a dipper by the spring Glenn uses to drink from the spring.
“We’re believers, Scarlett and I, and we like to spend quiet time here,” he said.
Information from: The Dothan Eagle, http://www.dothaneagle.com