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Posts Tagged ‘Pisgah National Forest’

On October 17, 1916, the Pisgah National Forest was the first national forest established under the Weeks Act of 1911. Written by FHS historian Jamie Lewis, this post was originally published in the online version of the Asheville Citizen-Times on October 14, 2016, and in print on October 16 to mark the centennial.

“When people walk around this forest … at every step of the way, they’re encountering nature, some of which has been regenerated by the initiatives of those generations they know not—they know nothing about. And I think that that’s ultimately the greatest gift: that you’ve given to them beautiful, working landscapes and you don’t know where they came from.”

Historian Char Miller closes our new documentary film, America’s First Forest, by acknowledging those who labored to create the Pisgah National Forest, which celebrates its centennial on October 17. We chose that quote because it simultaneously summed up the Pisgah’s history and looked to its future by implicitly asking who would carry on the work of the early generations in managing this national forest.

Miller is right. The Pisgah is a gift from many people—some whose names are familiar but many whose names are not. Most have heard of George Vanderbilt, or his Biltmore Estate. His greatest gift, however, was not to himself but to the nation. He hired renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to design Biltmore’s grounds. Creator of New York’s Central Park and other urban green spaces, Olmsted saw in this project opportunity to give back to the nation, and through Vanderbilt a way to do so. In 1890, Vanderbilt needed a forester. America needed forestry. Olmsted advised hiring a professional forester who would demonstrate to America that one could cut trees and preserve the forest at the same time.

Vanderbilt hired Gifford Pinchot, who then crafted the first-ever sustainable forest management plan in the United States. Pinchot later gave back to the country in his own way: in 1905, he established the U.S. Forest Service, providing the nation with an institution to manage its national forests and grasslands. But before leaving Vanderbilt’s employ in 1895, Pinchot did two things: he facilitated Vanderbilt’s purchase of an additional 100,000 acres, which Vanderbilt named Pisgah Forest, and he recommended hiring German forester Carl Schenck to implement his management plan.

Schenck’s “experimental” practices not only restored the forest but also improved its wildlife and fish habitat. This turned Pisgah Forest into a revenue source as well as a playground for its owner: a sustainably managed forest can provide all those things and more.

In 1898 Schenck established the Biltmore Forest School—the country’s first forestry school—to educate men wanting to become forest managers or owners. Many of the nearly 400 graduates also served in the Forest Service. The impact of Schenck’s gift is still seen on public and private forests today. Thankfully Congress preserved the school grounds as the Cradle of Forestry in America historic site.

On top, George W. Vanderbilt; next to him, his friend and physician, Dr. S. W. Battle; next, Mrs. Edith Vanderbilt in her riding suit; lowest, Miss Marion Olmsted, daughter of the famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. (FHS356)

On top, George W. Vanderbilt; next to him, his friend and physician, Dr. S. W. Battle; next, Mrs. Edith Vanderbilt in her riding suit; lowest, Miss Marion Olmsted, daughter of the famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. Photo taken in 1901 at Lookingglass Rock. (FHS356)

These men are not the only ones to thank for the Pisgah National Forest. In 1899 Asheville physician Chase Ambler mobilized citizens to protect the region’s scenery and climate. Pressured by conservation groups from the South and New England, Congress passed the Weeks Act of 1911, which empowered the federal government to purchase private land for the Forest Service to manage. This legislative gift pleased not only preservationists like Ambler by protecting scenery and recreation areas, but also conservationists because the land remained available for logging and other extractive activities.

In 1914 George Vanderbilt’s widow, Edith, sold Pisgah Forest for a fraction of its value in part to “perpetuate” the conservation legacy of her husband, and as a “contribution” to the American people. Pisgah Forest became the nucleus of the Pisgah National Forest, the first established under the Weeks Act, and Biltmore Forest School graduate Verne Rhoades became its first supervisor, in 1916.

But that is the past. The future of the Pisgah National Forest (and its neighbor the Nantahala) is being written now. The U.S. Forest Service is drafting a forest management plan to guide how it manages the forests for the next dozen or so years. At public meetings, the Forest Service has been hearing from citizens and groups like the Pisgah Conservancy to help it craft the forest’s future. Like Carl Schenck and Vern Rhoades before them, Pisgah’s current managers face great uncertainties, only now in the form of forest pests and disease, climate change, and a place so attractive that its visitors are “loving it to death.” Those who cherish the Pisgah for its “beautiful, working landscapes” can honor those who gave us that gift by continuing to sustainably manage it. That can ultimately be our greatest gift to future generations.

Normally the entrance to a national forest has a small sign with the Forest Service shield on it. This entrance to the Pisgah National Forest was a memorial arch constructed to honor the memory of the men of Transylvania County, North Carolina, killed in World War I. (U.S. Forest Service photo -- negative number 185843)

Normally the entrance to a national forest has a small sign with the Forest Service shield on it. This entrance to the Pisgah National Forest was a memorial arch constructed to honor the memory of the men of Transylvania County, North Carolina, killed in World War I. (U.S. Forest Service photo — negative number 185843)

 

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The following is an op-ed piece by FHS staff historian James G. Lewis that appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times on August 9, 2015, in honor of Gifford Pinchot’s 150th birthday on August 11. 

Born just after the guns of the Civil War fell silent, he died the year after the first atomic bomb was dropped. He was, in his own words, a “governor every now and then” but a forester all the time. Indeed, Gifford Pinchot, born 150 years ago on Aug. 11, served two terms as Pennsylvania governor but is best known as the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service (established 1905), which today manages 192 million acres. He also created the Society of American Foresters (1900), the organization that oversees his chosen profession, and the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (1900), the oldest forestry school in America. And just south of Asheville, in the Pisgah National Forest, is the Cradle of Forestry in America, both of which exist in part because of him.

But perhaps his greatest legacy is his prescient call, made 75 years ago, for conservation as the foundation for permanent peace.

GP portrait

Gifford Pinchot during his tenure as Forest Service chief.

When Pinchot enrolled at Yale College in 1885, his father encouraged him to pursue forestry. It was a radical idea. The United States had no forestry school, no working foresters, no land being managed on scientific principles. To become a forester, in 1889 Pinchot traveled to Europe. There he met Sir Dietrich Brandis, who was leading British forestry students on tours of sustainably managed forests in Germany. The best way to introduce forestry to the United States, Brandis told him, was to demonstrate that scientific forest management could earn a private landowner a steady income.

Pinchot came home in 1890 full of ideas but few job prospects. Through family connections, he learned of George Vanderbilt’s great undertaking in Asheville. Vanderbilt hired him to be his estate’s—and thus the nation’s—first working forester. When some of Pinchot’s employees began asking why he did things a certain way, like selecting only some trees to cut instead of cutting them all, he decided to teach them in the evenings.

Pinchot didn’t have the temperament to be a teacher, and the classes, such as they were, didn’t last. But fortunately for America, his forestry exhibit at the Columbian Exposition of 1893 and accompanying booklet, Biltmore Forest, attracted wider attention, and he left Biltmore in 1895. On his recommendation, Vanderbilt hired Carl Alwin Schenck, another Brandis protégé, who in 1898 established the Biltmore Forest School, the first forestry school in America.

In 1898, Pinchot was appointed chief of what would become the U.S. Forest Service. He and his friend President Theodore Roosevelt made forestry the focus of a national conservation movement. The two held national and North American conservation conferences before Roosevelt left office in 1909. An international one was scuttled after Pinchot was fired by President Taft in 1910.

A political progressive, Pinchot next plunged into politics. No matter what office he ran for—governor, senator, representative—he advocated for human rights and sustainably managed natural resources. In the 1930s, he watched as Europe and Asia waged wars in large part over access to natural resources. His 1940 observation that “international co-operation in conserving, utilizing, and distributing natural resources to the mutual advantage of all nations might well remove one of the most dangerous of all obstacles to a just and permanent world peace” rings louder even today and is a premise of the just-released UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Although planting a tree or visiting the Cradle of Forestry are good ways to commemorate Gifford Pinchot’s 150th birthday on Aug. 11, the best way to honor America’s first forester is to continue working for conservation and, by extension, world peace.

James Lewis is the staff historian at the Forest History Society in Durham and an executive producer of “First in Forestry: Carl Schenck and the Biltmore Forest School.” The film will have its world premiere at Brevard College on Aug. 30 and its television premiere on UNC-TV in 2016.

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“How could we lose this forest?” It’s a history mystery we’d been working on for more than two weeks when Molly Tartt, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution in western North Carolina, asked me that in an email. Indeed, how does a 50-acre forest vanish from maps and memory? No one knows where the forest is today, and few have heard of it. It’s more legend than fact at this point, it seems. Molly had been searching for some time and turned to FHS for help, fittingly, just before Independence Day.

A December 1939 newspaper article trumpeted the DAR’s plans for planting a forest to “memorialize the North Carolina patriots who took part in the struggle for independence.” An area that had been heavily logged and burned over would be reforested. The plan called for 60,000 trees to be planted on 25 to 40 acres set aside for the memorial (we believe it to actually be about 50 acres) in an area between Devil’s Courthouse and Mount Hardy Gap. The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) announced at around the same time that they intended to plant 125,000 red spruce and balsam trees nearby to commemorate each North Carolina man who served in the Confederate Army. Today there is a wooden sign for that forest at the Mount Hardy overlook.

The DAR memorial forest project was part of a national conservation campaign by the organization leading up to its golden jubilee in 1941. The nation was facing the twin crises of economic depression and ecological disaster. It may have been the Dust Bowl years on the Great Plains, but in the Appalachian Mountains, forests and watersheds were suffering too. Though the land was within the Pisgah National Forest, logging companies had contracts to cut and proceeded to do so via railroad logging. The rail lines extended deep into the mountains, with the labor of men and machines combining to take a toll on the Southern Appalachian forests.

Map showing logging railroads in the early 20th century. From Thomas Fetters, Logging Railroads fo the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains: Volume 1, Cold Mountain, Black Mountain and White Top (2007)

Map showing logging railroads in the early 20th century. The forest is between Devil’s Courthouse and Little Sam Knob. From Thomas Fetters, Logging Railroads of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains: Volume 1, Cold Mountain, Black Mountain and White Top, pg. 227 (2007)

RR logging - Haywood County

Cutover land - Haywood County

Railroad logging, as seen in the top photo, left behind landscapes like in the bottom photo. The slash and debris left by loggers was prone to fire, which happened on the land where DAR dedicated its forest. Both photos were taken somewhere in Haywood County, NC, about 20 years before the DAR plantings. The memorial forest is located in southern Haywood County. (FHS4310 and K_1-166337)

To combat the twin problems of human and environmental poverty, President Franklin Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933. Women’s groups of all stripes wanted to do their part, and in the DAR’s case, the jubilee provided motivation. According to the organization’s “DAR Forests” webpage:

In 1939, the President General, Mrs. Henry M. Robert, chose the Penny Pine program as one of her Golden Jubilee National Projects. Each state was to have a memorial forest, beginning in 1939 and culminating in 1941 on the NSDAR 50th Anniversary. Each chapter across the country was to pledge, at the very least, one acre of pine seedlings. Five dollars an acre at a penny each equaled 500 trees. The Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC), under the supervision of the U.S. Forestry [sic] Service, would do the actual work of planting and care.

The DAR’s interest in Appalachia’s forests has deep roots, stretching back to the Progressive Era and the debates over the need to protect the headwaters of navigable waterways in the East. According to environmental historian Carolyn Merchant, “In 1909 Mrs. Mathew T. Scott was elected President General of the 77,000 member Daughters of the American Revolution…. Mrs. Scott was an enthusiastic conservationist who encouraged the maintenance of a conservation committee consisting of 100 members representing every state.” (One of the women deeply involved in the conservation committee was Gifford Pinchot‘s mother, Mary.) Under Scott’s leadership, DAR conservation efforts included working towards the “preservation of the Appalachian watersheds, the Palisades, and Niagara Falls.”[1]

By then, forest conservation leaders in North Carolina had been agitating for nearly two decades for state and federal protection of forests and watersheds. They formed the state’s forestry association in 1911, and its forest service in 1915. And although the Weeks Act of 1911 had led to the creation of the Pisgah National Forest in 1916, where the proposed memorial forest would be located, federal management didn’t immediately translate into better environmental conditions. Logging companies carried out their existing contracts and logged what they could—in this case taking “one of the best virgin stands of spruce in the United States,” according to a 1941 newspaper report, and leaving “only a few scattered trees of merchantable species due to clearcutting” and fire—before turning over land to the Forest Service.[2]

In the late 1930s the conservation (and patriotic) ethos of the local and state DAR chapters was strong and members were highly motivated to take action on many fronts. This can be seen through reports about the state chapter in the annual national congress proceedings, beginning the same year President General Robert announced the golden jubilee project.

Proceedings of the Forty-Eighth Continental Congress of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Washington, DC, April 17-21, 1939: “North Carolina—Mrs. Hugh McAllister, Chairman [of conservation]. Chairman urged legislation for eradication of Dutch elm disease and the planting of a memorial forest in Pisgah National Forest in 1940. Thirty acres have already been reforested and 20 acres trimmed. A total of 37,444 trees planted.”(114)

Proceedings of the Forty-Ninth Continental Congress, April 15-19, 1940: “North Carolina—Mrs. Hugh McAllister, reports that Golden Jubilee Forest has been completed and will be dedicated on May 15th. Conservation of holly and other evergreen trees has been urged and 54,331 trees planted.”(120)

Proceedings of the Fiftieth Continental Congress, April 14-19, 1941: “North Carolina—Mrs. Leet A. O’Brien, Chairman. Golden Jubilee Memorial Forest of 50 acres planted and dedicated May 15, 1940; 3,184 other trees were used in beautification projects.”(156)

On May 15, 1940, six months after announcing the planting project, state and national DAR leaders drove out a winding mountain road from Waynesville to the Pisgah National Forest for the dedication ceremony along the Blue Ridge Parkway, then under construction. Mrs. Robert traveled from her home in Maryland to accept the forest on behalf of the national organization, and Mrs. McAllister presided over the proceedings. The only man invited to participate in the program was the U.S. Forest Service’s H. B. Bosworth, Pisgah National Forest’s supervisor, who briefly explained the federal government’s reforestation projects on that windy day. You can see the ladies trying to keep their hats on in the few remaining photos.

Pisgah Forest Supervisor H.B Bosworth addresses the gathering.

Pisgah Forest Supervisor H.B. Bosworth addresses the gathering. The women aren’t saluting; they’re holding on to their hats.

The site was to be marked with a bronze tablet mounted on a large boulder, like in the second photograph down below, and placed at a parking area adjacent to the forest. We don’t know where the above photo is taken, or what road that is above them (or if it’s even a road). A photo from the ceremony (below) shows a sign attached to two poles. We don’t know if the sign is bronze or wood, or if a tablet attached to a rock was ever installed. (Demand for bronze after U.S. entry into World War II meant postponing the casting of the UDC tablet, whose ceremony was two years later, until after the war.) The reforestation effort didn’t begin until 1941, when the seedlings were mature enough to plant.

This is the only photo we have seen showing the sign.

This is the only photo we have seen showing the sign. We’ve recently learned the poles were made of brass.

Illinois Society Daughters of the American Revolution at dedication of D.A.R. Diamond Jubilee cooperative forest plantation on the Shawnee National Forest, Illinois, 1940. It's assumed that the one in North Carolina would have used a rock of similar size. At far left is Margaret March-Mount, who launched the Penny Pines campaign. (FHS Photo Collection, R9_419109

Illinois Society Daughters of the American Revolution at dedication of D.A.R. Diamond Jubilee cooperative forest plantation on the Shawnee National Forest, Illinois, 1940. Presumably  the one in North Carolina would have used a rock of similar size. At far left is Margaret March-Mount, who launched the Penny Pines campaign. (FHS Photo Collection, R9_419109; USFS photo 419109)

It’s not known when the forest went “missing.” I’ve found only a single mention of the DAR forest after 1942; it was in a 1951 newspaper column “Looking Back Over the Years” that recapped news from ten years before, and it was about planting the seedlings. The UDC forest planted was “misplaced” for a few decades but was relocated and rededicated in 2002.

Research conducted here at FHS and in western North Carolina has narrowed the DAR forest to being around the Devil’s Courthouse overlook at mile marker 422, on the north side (see map). It’s rather ironic that alongside the newspaper article in the April 24, 1941, announcing the arrival of the spruce seedlings for planting is one about the romantic comedy film opening in town that weekend. The now-forgotten film The Man Who Lost Himself centers around a case of mistaken identity and redemption that of course ends happily. If you know anything about this forest that was lost and possibly mistaken for another, please email me at James.Lewis AT foresthistory.org. We’d like to identify this forest and write a happy ending for this story, too.

Sam's Knob Devils Court House map

“X” marks the possible location of the DAR forest. Click on the map to enlarge.

UPDATE: 7/29/2015

Since the original post went up, we received the map below courtesy of Molly Tartt. She received the copy from a former Forest Service employee. The map is dated three days before the newspaper article mentioned above that the seedlings had arrived.

US Forest Service map of the area showing the two memorial plantations, dated April 21, 1941. Click the map to see it enlarged.

US Forest Service map of the area showing the two memorial plantations, dated April 21, 1941. Click the map to see it enlarged. The chain-like symbol with the line through the links represents the county line and the same symbol without the line is either a road or a trail.

Close-up of the area from the same map.

Close-up of the area from the same map. The parkway runs on the south side of both forests.

This satellite photo indicates where the forest is most likely located today by the #1. It's curious that there are other clusters of similar species in the vicinity, as indicated by #2-5.

This satellite photo indicates where the forest is located today (1). It’s curious that there are other clusters of what appear to be similar species in the vicinity, as indicated by numbers 2-5. It’s not known if these were planted or naturally regenerated.

UPDATE: 10/18/2016

A re-dedication ceremony was held on October 14, 2016, during which a new sign commemorating the original dedication and explaining the impact of logging on the area was unveiled. The ceremony attracted about 200 people, including the national leadership of the DAR, and was covered by local newspapers the Transylvania Times and the Smoky Mountain News.

The new sign, with the DAR forest in the background.

The new sign, with the DAR forest in the background.

Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent mark Woods addresses the crowd during the ceremony.

Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent Mark Woods addresses the crowd during the ceremony. Lorie Stroup, acting district ranger for the Pisgah National Forest, spoke on behalf of the U.S. Forest Service.

The DAR Jubilee Forest, as seen from Devil's Courthouse, Oct. 14, 2016

The DAR Jubilee Forest, as seen from Devil’s Courthouse, Oct. 14, 2016.

Many thanks to Molly Tartt and to the researchers and historians at the DAR library in Washington, DC, for their help and to all who provided photos and other sources.

NOTES

[1] Carolyn Merchant, “Women of the Progressive Conservation Movement: 1900-1916,”  Environmental Review Vol. 8, No. 1: 68-69.

[2] “Patriotic Groups Planting Memorial Forests in Pisgah,” Waynesville Mountaineer, April 24, 1941.

 

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What began as a millionaire’s dream, a genius’s vision, and a forester’s labor is now being captured in a Forest History Society documentary film. This spring the Forest History Society joined forces with Bonesteel Films to produce First in Forestry, a documentary film about Carl Alwin Schenck and the Biltmore Forest School. Principal photography for the interviews and re-creation footage began in earnest last month, and yours truly was there to witness the excitement and action, consult a bit, and try to look like I know what I am doing.

For those not familiar with our story, George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, is where the first large-scale forest management effort was carried out in the United States under the direction of Gifford Pinchot and Carl Schenck. Schenck also established the first school of forestry in North America. Several of the nearly 400 men who graduated from his school went on to become leaders in American forestry in the first half of the 20th century. Much of the land they worked and learned on is now preserved as the Pisgah National Forest. The story of Carl Schenck and his work at the Biltmore is the focus of the film.

cradle overlook

The view from the Blue Ridge Parkway towards where the Biltmore Forest School spent the summer months. George Vanderbilt owned much of what is visible from there. (Jamie Lewis)

Director Paul Bonesteel strongly believes that including re-creation footage will draw in today’s audiences, and we couldn’t agree more. He used this technique with great success in two other films that have aired on PBS, The Mystery of George Masa and The Day Carl Sandburg Died.

Critical to that success is finding the right actors to portray historical figures, in this case, finding forester Carl Schenck (not Finding Forrester).

"Dr. Schenck" keeps a close eye on "his boys" during a break in filming while Paul checks the playback.

“Dr. Schenck” keeps a close eye on “his boys” during a break in filming while director Paul Bonesteel checks the playback. (Courtesy of Bonesteel Films)

Here's an example of pretending I know what I'm doing: showing Paul and "Dr. Schenck" the proper height to hold a Biltmore stick. (Courtesy of Bonesteel Films)

Here’s an example of acting like I know what I’m doing: showing Paul (left) and “Dr. Schenck” (right) the proper height to hold a Biltmore stick. The rumors reported on Entertainment Tonight about my having punched out Paul over creative differences are incorrect. (Courtesy of Bonesteel Films)

Paul gives “Dr. Schenck” direction for his next scene. The rumor reported in the press in 1909 that Dr. Schenck punched out estate manager C.D. Beadle is, sadly, true. (Courtesy of Bonesteel films)

We are fortunate to have the cooperation of the U.S. Forest Service and the Cradle of Forestry National Historic Site in making the filming possible. We’re using locations found throughout the Pisgah National Forest and at the Cradle of Forestry.

No shoot is too difficult for the Bonesteel team to capture. They even set up a camera in a cold mountain stream to get just the right shot. (Courtesy of Bonesteel Films)

No shot is too difficult for the Bonesteel team to capture. They even set up a camera in a cold mountain stream to get just the right angle. No animals or camera crew were hurt in the taking of this photograph. (Courtesy of Bonesteel Films)

As you might imagine, it takes a number of talented people behind the scenes to make the action in front of the camera look good and convincing. The folks at Bonesteel Films are top-notch and really pleasant to work with. Early calls and long days don’t dampen spirits. Not even a relentless rain storm stopped our filming interviews one day. We just moved to a new location. Fortunately, when it was time for shooting re-creation footage in the forest we had good weather.

Part of the crew watching and making sure everything runs smoothly. We needed people for wardrobe and makeup, wrangling horses, and coordinating the two cameras.

We needed people for wardrobe and makeup, wrangling horses, checking the script, and coordinating the two cameras. (Courtesy of Bonesteel Films)

One of the things that excites us about working with Bonesteel Films is Paul’s skill in mixing traditional documentary film-making style (historical photographs and interviews with historians) with re-creation footage that works like a historical photograph brought to life. But without good interviews, the film could suffer. So we brought in one of the best at on-screen interviews, Char Miller. You may know him from such films as The Greatest Good and The Wilderness Idea.

Pinchot biographer Char Miller will be one of the featured interviews. Here Char (right) takes a break from being interviewed to pose with yours truly and Paul. Rumors reported on Entertainment Tonight that I got in a fight with Char and Paul over sartorial differences are not true. (Courtesy of Bonesteel Films)

Not all of the film will be “talking heads” and re-creation footage. This is not just a story of the people, but the story of the place. The Pisgah region and the Southern Appalachians are one of the most beautiful places in the world in my opinion. You can’t ask for a better backdrop for filming. It’s why so many Hollywood films are made there, too.

The area around Asheville, NC, is known as "The Land of the Sky" and with good reason. Here's the view from the Blue Ridge Parkway. (Jamie Lewis)

The area around Asheville is known as “The Land of the Sky” and with good reason. Here’s the view from the Blue Ridge Parkway. (Jamie Lewis)

For a few months now, whenever he gets a chance, Paul has been shooting footage that will capture and convey that beauty. He has plenty of experience doing so because of his film about George Masa and commercial work for the Biltmore Estate.

Paul works both on the micro and macro levels when it comes to capturing nature on film.

Paul works both on the micro and macro levels when it comes to capturing nature on film.  (Courtesy of Bonesteel Films)

One of the things you often hear about with actors and film sets is how groupies sneak on to the set to watch filming. I’m hear to tell you it’s true. We’re going to beef up security for the next round of filming. We can’t allow set crashers who then peddle gossip to the tabloids.

We eventually had security remove this interloper from the set. We think he's the source of the rumors in the press.

We eventually had security remove this interloper from the set. We think he’s the source of the rumors in the press of fisticuffs and tantrums. (Jamie Lewis)

If you’ve read this far, thank you! If you want to be a part of forest history, we’re still fundraising for the film. Please visit our film page to learn how you can contribute, and stay tuned for more news on the film.

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We asked Andy Mason of the National Capital chapter of the Society of American Foresters to share with us what he recently learned about a family with deep forestry roots.

Shirley Ann Mattoon was there on September 24, 1963, joining the large crowd that welcomed President John F. Kennedy to Milford, Pennsylvania, and Grey Towers for the dedication of the Pinchot Institute for Conservation. On this day, Gifford Pinchot’s ancestral home, was given by the Pinchot family to the American people and is now managed as a national historic site by the U.S. Forest Service. Known to her friends as “Sam,” now 88 years old, Shirley was a celebrity at the 50th anniversary of the 1963 dedication. She had many other stories to tell us about that day and her family of foresters with connections to Pinchot as we sat and enjoyed appetizers and sipped wine on a beautiful moonlit fall evening on the lawn in front of the Grey Towers mansion.

Sam Mattoon

Sam Mattoon identifying herself in this 1963 photo of President John F. Kennedy at Grey Towers. President Kennedy is to the right of the man with the camera.

Sam’s husband, John A. Mattoon, a second-generation forester and U.S. Forest Service employee, was also there in 1963 with just a few things on his mind. John worked for the national “I&E” office (Information and Education office, known today as the Office of Communication and Conservation Education), and with the chief of I&E (his boss) on assignment in Europe, John had a major role in coordinating the president’s visit and the event.

Sam Mattoon (right) with Margie Mattoon Cox (John A. Mattoon’s sister) at the 1963 dedication.

Sam Mattoon (right) with Margie Mattoon Cox (John A. Mattoon’s sister) at the 1963 dedication.

When he retired in 1983, John A. Mattoon had more than 40 years of federal service that began in World War II, when he served as a naval aviator flying a Curtiss Helldiver bomber with the 88th squadron on the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown. For several heroic actions in the Pacific, he earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses and two Air Medals. He graduated from Penn State before the war and received a master’s degree from the Yale School of Forestry in 1950.

Early in his distinguished natural resources career, in the 1950s, John A. Mattoon was district ranger on national forests in Colorado, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. He transferred to the Washington Office, where he worked closely with Forest Service artist Rudy Wendelin and others to help promote Smokey Bear into the icon it remains today. While in Washington, Mattoon and Wendelin also worked together to design the agency’s shoulder patch that was used beginning in 1963 until the early 1970s.

John A. Mattoon (center) with fellow employees showing off their new Forest Service shoulder emblems at the Pisgah Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest, 1963

John A. Mattoon (center) with fellow employees showing off their new Forest Service shoulder emblems at the Pisgah Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest, 1963

After 24 years with the U.S. Forest Service, Mattoon transferred to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and continued his work to promote conservation and educate the public about it. He had a major role in developing the advertising campaign for Johnny Horizon, BLM’s very successful symbol of the late 1960s and early 1970s that encouraged litter cleanup and brought attention to air and water pollution and other issues. He also worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and ended his federal career in the Department of the Interior working on the Alaska pipeline and the Endangered Species Act, among other issues. When he retired in 1983, his colleagues presented him with a framed simulated press release that described how he was widely admired throughout his long career by coworkers, the conservation community, and the news media for his “outstanding personal and professional integrity, unswerving loyalty, and dedication to open communication.”

Singer Burl Ives, broadcaster Arthur Godfrey, and Secretary of the Interior Wally Hickel follow John A. Mattoon (far right) at a Johnny Horizon publicity event on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 1970 (Photo by Jack Rottier, National Park Service)

Singer Burl Ives, broadcaster Arthur Godfrey, and Secretary of the Interior Wally Hickel follow John A. Mattoon (far right) at a Johnny Horizon publicity event on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 1970 (Photo by Jack Rottier, National Park Service)

The forestry roots of the Mattoon family go deep. John A. Mattoon’s father, Merwin “Chic” Mattoon, was also a Yale Forestry School graduate (class of 1914) and the second forest supervisor of the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. The Pisgah was the first national forest established under the Weeks Act of 1911 and included a portion of the Biltmore Estate, where Gifford Pinchot first put scientific forestry to work in America. The first school of forestry in the United States—the Biltmore Forest School—was also there, now preserved as the Cradle of Forestry in America National Historic Site.

John and Margie Mattoon on a U.S. Forest Service parade float, Asheville, North Carolina, circa 1930

John and and his sister Margie Mattoon on a U.S. Forest Service parade float, Asheville, North Carolina, circa 1930

“Party on Big Levels Federal Refuge—May 1939” is written on the back of this photo, along with the following identifications: “Standing (Left to Right): T. E. Clarke, Leo Couch, E. Addy, Dr. Jackson, C. O. Handley, Carl Nolting, M. A. Mattoon (tall man wearing a vest), R. M. Evans, D. J. Wooley, and H. S. Mosby. Bottom Row (Left to Right): B. C. Park, G. L. Varney, A. L. Nelson, S. P. Goodloe, Dr. H. L. Shantz, and Mr. Thornton.”

“Party on Big Levels Federal Refuge—May 1939” is written on the back of this photo, along with the following identifications: “Standing (Left to Right): T. E. Clarke, Leo Couch, E. Addy, Dr. Jackson, C. O. Handley, Carl Nolting, M. A. Mattoon (tall man wearing a vest), R. M. Evans, D. J. Wooley, and H. S. Mosby. Bottom Row (Left to Right): B. C. Park, G. L. Varney, A. L. Nelson, S. P. Goodloe, Dr. H. L. Shantz, and Mr. Thornton.”

And the family roots go even deeper. Merwin Mattoon married Marguerite McLean of Simsbury, Connecticut, Gifford Pinchot’s birthplace and early childhood home. Pinchot was close friends with another McLean family member, George P. McLean. Gifford and George were said to be “soulmates” and loved the Simsbury woods. George would gain fame as governor of Connecticut and a three-term U.S. senator. Gifford also knew George’s brother, John B. McLean; the two reportedly met in 1895 to help establish the Connecticut Forestry Association. Merwin was also personal friends with Gifford Pinchot and would fish with him as well as with L. L. Bean. Both Merwin and Marguerite Mattoon are buried in the Hop Meadow cemetery at Simsbury. William “Bill” Cox, grandson of Merwin, great-grandson of John B. McLean, and nephew of John and Sam Mattoon, lives in Simsbury.

The Mattoon family tree includes yet one more forester: Wilbur Reed Mattoon, Yale Class of 1904. Known as W. R. or “Matty,” he was one of the first extension foresters who worked throughout the South to promote farm forestry and the possibilities of growing timber in that region. He is recognized for his many publications and speeches and as one of the best writers in the Forest Service on forestry matters (from 1959 oral interview with Elwood L. Demmon, Asheville, by Elwood R. Maunder, Forest History Foundation, Inc.). One example of his work is “Forestry Lessons on Home Woodlands” (USDA Department Bulletin No. 863), issued in 1920.

Through their associations with Gifford Pinchot, the U.S. Forest Service, other conservation agencies and organizations, the Yale School of Forestry, and a love of the woods, the Mattoons and McLeans certainly had a role in shaping early forestry and conservation in the United States. Thanks to Sam Mattoon and her family, we have now quilted these two families into that rich history. Do you have a story to tell about another “first family of forestry”? Please contact Jamie Lewis, Forest History Society historian.

Andy Mason is the chairperson of the National Capital Society of American Foresters. This article was prepared with the aid of Shirley Ann “Sam” Mattoon, Bill Cox, and Margie Mattoon Cox. Tom Thompson and Karl Brauneis (both foresters and U.S. Forest Service retirees) also made important contributions to this story.

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A flash of light woke me around 3 am. I thought someone had flicked a light in the bedroom and left the water running in the bathroom. But then I remembered. I was in a tent. The running water was from the nearby stream, the flash was lightning. In that foggy no-man’s land where my brain resides when awakened from a dead sleep, several related thoughts raced through it at once: Damn, the forecasters were right after all—rain. But for how long? The entire race? Was it cold, too? Didn’t matter, I reminded myself. I was going to run regardless. I’d heard from the office Friday afternoon that the Dash for the ‘Stache had already raised $1,600 and I couldn’t disappoint those folks (the total is now over $2,000—and you can still give). I just hoped that it wouldn’t rain Saturday night, too. My last thought before drifting back to sleep was that Smokey Bear would be pleased. Our campfire was good and drowned.

cradle_tent

Friday evening’s weather was perfect for camping. Friday night’s weather was perfect for ducks.

About two hours later, I woke up to find my lower back cold and wet. Now all I could think of was the sign on the footbridge from the parking area to the campsite that warned of flash floods. My brain immediately went there—I’m about to become the subject of a freak news story, the camper swept away in a flash flood. I reached behind me and found a puddle, not a stream. Okay, maybe I won’t float away after all. But the sleeping bag was acting like a sponge and soaking up the water. I tried spinning and contorting like an acrobat to avoid the wet spot, but there was no way to escape it. It was done and so was I. I listened to the slow thwip thwip thwip of the water coming from the roof peak and on to the sleep pad for a few more minutes. The rain outside sounded like it was coming down harder than before, which meant it was going to do the same inside. I sighed as I began the process of extricating myself from the synthetic cocoon, all the while trying to avoid the puddle and wet bag. I got dressed, found my headlamp so I could see to tie the boot laces, grabbed my jacket and hat, and headed for the bathroom and then the car for a little more sleep, if I was lucky.

As I approached the car, it was light enough that I could barely make out Jason sleeping in his car. New to trail running but not camping, he had taken the forecast seriously and decided not to risk using a worn-out rain fly and opted to spend the night in his car. He was looking like a genius. Then I heard POP POP POP POP. Gunshots? At 5:30 in the morning? Who’d be hunting in this weather? Get a life, I thought. And get in the car. Wearing a green raincoat in this low light, I might be mistaken for a deer or Sasquatch’s shorter brother. I climbed in my car and shed my raincoat so I wouldn’t be sitting in another puddle. And then I heard what sounded like a large creaking door followed by WHOMP. That got my attention. I hadn’t heard gunshots—it was a tree snapping and then falling over. Oh, crap, I thought. I hope that tree didn’t just block the road. We’d never make the race.

(more…)

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To help celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Weeks Act, we’ve asked Dr. Bob Healy of Duke University’s Nicholas School for the Environment to write a series of blog posts in which he’ll reflect on his classic book, The Lands Nobody Wanted, and the eastern national forests. This is the 3rd in the series.

Fifty national forests, twenty-three states, in the Northeast, Appalachians, Southeast, Lake States, and South-central parts of the country. Over 23,000,000 acres of mountains, rushing streams, hiking trails, hunting and fishing spots, and diverse ecosystems to explore. Some impressive timber stands and some quiet spots for contemplation. This is the legacy of the Weeks Act.

I thought it would be a useful exercise to identify my three favorite Weeks Act forests, to explain why I like them, and to encourage you to identify your own favorites. This is scarcely a scientific exercise and is based to a significant extent on my own personal experience—when I asked Jamie Lewis, editor of Forest History Today, for his list, the favorite was the George Washington National Forest, in west central Virginia. Certainly a very nice place, but not even my favorite Virginia Forest (it’s the Jefferson, if you’re curious.) “Why?” I asked. “I used to enjoy hiking and camping there when I went to college at James Madison University,” he replied. So we all have our reasons. Below are mine, and I solicit your own list.

White Mountain National Forest (New Hampshire)

I think I am not alone in considering this forest the best of them all, the kind of place that very likely would have been an early national park but for the destructive cutting and sheep grazing that that taken place in the late 19th century when the nation first decided to designate parks.

As with so many of the eastern national forests, the mixture of public and private land often makes it difficult for one to know when one is on private land, when on the national forest, and when in a state park or other kind of reserve. For example, a clear highlight of the forest is Mt. Washington, the second highest mountain in the eastern U.S. and home to some of the windiest, coldest weather ever recorded. (It can be quite cold even in summer, when this sort of thing is quite welcome after a warm day in the valley below.) The summit is a 60-acre state park, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of acres of national forest. Similarly, much of the charm of the area comes from small towns and mountain resorts, all found on private land. The difference the national forest makes, in the White Mountains as in so many other locations, is to protect the overall view. One can look up at the peaks of the Presidential Range and view a sea of trees, not a hodgepodge of vacation houses, large clearcuts, and “abandoned in progress” land developments.

White Mountain National Forest, 2011 (Courtesy of Jamie Lewis)

Much of the pleasure of the White Mountains is just driving through them. But there’s also hiking, on the Appalachian Trail (which tracks the mountain summits) and on many side trails; maple sugaring in early spring, fishing one of the rushing streams, and (my longtime personal favorite) a Memorial Day visit to Tuckerman’s Ravine, a corner of Mt. Washington where the foolhardy attempt to ski the last remaining snow that tends to collect there. This often results in unintentional cold water swimming, a harbinger of the summer season to come.

Pisgah National Forest (North Carolina)

For me, the Pisgah’s attraction starts with the Cradle of Forestry. This is a re-creation of the place where German forester Dr. Carl Schenck operated for 15 years starting in 1898—the Biltmore Forest School, first in America. One can walk among restored and recreated buildings and see how field forestry was taught, and how the students lived. There’s a church, a general store, and a ranger’s cabin where costumed volunteers demonstrate family life in a mountain community of the time. The Pisgah also has historical importance as one of the first large forest units purchased under the Weeks Act—in 1914-1917, George Vanderbilt’s widow sold tens of thousands of forested acres originally managed for Vanderbilt by Gifford Pinchot to the government at bargain prices.

The road to the Cradle of Forestry is a special treat—very common when one enters a national forest, but notable nonetheless. When one drives into the forest from Brevard, NC, on a hot summer’s day, the first experience is the huge shopping center at the highway intersection, then a few hundred yards of ice cream stands and other local businesses, and then…a dark, cool forest. The temperature must fall 15 degrees in an instant. It’s one of life’s small pleasures—the coolness of the tree canopy—but I am surely not the only person who has a mental list of where and when to expect it. And this is one of the places.

A Painted Bunting (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

A number of miles up the same road, atop the ridge near Mt. Pisgah, is the Pisgah Inn, an inholding with a restaurant and motel accommodations overlooking the valleys below. It’s the place where I saw my first-ever Painted Bunting. The campground on the other side of the road is ablaze with rhododendrons in early summer. Just behind the hotel one can pick up the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, a longstanding dream of a 1,100-mile trail that meanders across North Carolina from the Appalachians to the Outer Banks. The section on Mt. Pisgah is where one can take a short hike or dream of a long one.

The lively and historic city of Asheville and the French Broad River bisect the Pisgah. Farther north, the forest tracks part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, offers the Linville Gorge and Shining Rock Wilderness Areas, Linville Falls, and Mt. Mitchell—highest mountain in the East—impressive, though not as daunting as the slightly lower Mt. Washington in the White Mountain NF.

Ocala National Forest (Florida)

The White Mountain and the Pisgah National Forests are likely to appear on most lists, but my impression is that the Ocala NF has more of a local clientele. To be sure, it’s located only 65 miles north of Orlando, and is a wonderful camping stop for those heading southward. Given the heat and insects, I think winter camping is best. A fond memory is a stop many years ago, in early December, before the snowbirds hit the road, in an almost deserted campground there. In the morning, my wife and I were besieged by local wildlife (squirrels, chipmunks, and—unless memory fails—a rather aggressive rabbit) who were used to living off the detritus of campers and found us to be the only game in town.

Salt Springs (Photo by Sandra Friend, US Forest Service. Courtesy of National Forests in Florida)

But the real draw of the Ocala is its waters. Given that the highest mountain in Florida (Britton Hill, actually) is only 344 feet above sea level, the state is not a place for whitewater enthusiasts. But Florida has springs that bubble from the ground at rates of up to thousands of gallons per minute. The Ocala has four of the larger springs—Alexander Springs, Salt Springs, Silver Glen Springs, and (my favorite) Juniper Springs. The springs are notable for several things. First, at least in Florida, the water temperature is close to constant, about 72 degrees. That’s just right, especially during the oppressive summer heat, when even the ocean seems too warm.

Second, spring water has an amazing clarity. It is natural water as one imagines it but rarely encounters it—pure and perfect. Third, a large spring creates just enough of a current to allow a canoe, rubber boat, or—even better—a large inner tube to drift along purposefully while the occupant alternates between wildlife spotting and pure relaxation. Some of the facilities at the Ocala’s springs were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, adding a historical dimension.

Incidentally, lest this point be raised by a reader, I’m aware that the Ocala was designated a national forest by President Theodore Roosevelt in November 1908, three years before the Weeks Act. It was based on public domain that contained valuable timber but that had not yet been claimed by homesteaders. It was the first (some might say tied with the Chotawhatchee NF, also in Florida and created at about the same time) national forest east of the Mississippi. Nevertheless, the Ocala got about one-third of its land from Weeks Act purchases in the 1930s, and additions from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, whose purchase authority is based on the Weeks Act. So I’ll call it a Weeks Act forest for this discussion.

So that’s my list of personal favorites. Let me admit from the start that I’m neither a hunter nor a trout fisherman, and I’m light on experience in the Lakes States. So those, among other things, provide an automatic bias, which other readers may not share. Do let the blog know what your favorite one, two or three Weeks Act forests might be.

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