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THE CRADLE WILL ROCK

Excerpted from an article by Robert Beanblossom for the Asheville Citizen-Times.

“FORESTRY SITE IN PISGAH NATIONAL FOREST IS STEEPED IN WNC HISTORY…

…Nestled in a mountainous valley know as the Pink Beds (for its dense rhododendron growth) is the Cradle of Forestry in America, a national historic site.  This  spot in the heart of the Pisgah National Forest in Western North Carolina is aptly named for it is the birthplace of scientific forestry in the U.S.

The intriguing story begins in early 1888, when a very wealthy young man, George Washington Vanderbilt, came to Asheville with his mother, who sought relief form malaria-like symptoms.  Dr. S. Westray Battle provided Mrs. Vanderbilt’s medical treatment while she and her son stayed at the posh Battery Park Hotel.  The clean air, scenic mountains and natural beauty of the area quickly captivated Vanderbilt, a widely-traveled individual who considered  himself a poet at heart.  He fell in love with this land and immediately decided to building a luxurious mansion – he later named Biltmore – and to purchase property.

By 1895, he could claim ownership of more than 125,000 acres of forest land – much of it heavily damaged by fire, grazing and poor logging practices. But there were virgin stands of high quality trees, especially in the coves and on north and east slopes of his holdings.  Vanderbilt employed the foremost architect of the day, Richard Morris Hunt, to design his 255-room mansion, but also hired an equally famous landscape architect, Fredrick Law Olmsted, to design the grounds of the estate.  And – he hired one of the only two foresters in the country at the time, a 27-year-old Pennsylvanian named Gifford Pinchot.

Stands not adequately stocked with trees were planted with hardwoods and pine.  Thus, Biltmore because the beginning of practical forestry in America.   It was the first piece of woodland to be put under a regular system of forest management whose object was to pay the owner while improving the forest.  Pinchot was employed at Biltmore for three years, eventually serving as the first chief of the US Forest Service, and later was elected Governor of Pennsylvania.

Pinchot recommended his successor, Dr. Carl A. Schenck, a German forester who knew little of American tree species or forestry of Appalachian mountain culture.  Schenck urged the construction of permanent forest roads to facilitate management activities, took steps to improve water sheds, and created a tree nursery.  He undertook several projects to improve game and fish populations on Vanderbilt’s lands.  Eventually he was approached to teach the new concept call “forestry.”  He opened a forest school in 1898 on a site 100 yards from the present-day Cradle of Forestry in America’s Forest Discovery Center, the first forestry school in the nation.  His 12-month curriculum was intense.  Mixed in with his forestry lectures were lessons in art, music, history, literature –  and life.  Classes included silviculture, surveying, forest protection, logging, tree and plant identification, forest mensuration, forest policy and forest management to name a few.

The Biltmore Forest School closed in 1913.  Out of more than 365 students, 300 completed the coursework and over half went into forestry.

Vanderbilt’s widow, Edith, sold the 87,500-acre Pink Beds tract to the Forest Service in 1914. It ultimately became part of the Pisgah National Forest.  Congress carved out a designated 6,500 acres as a national historic site in 1968.  Today this historic site is jointly managed by the Forest Service in a cooperative partnership with the Cradle of Forestry in America Interpretive Association, a nonprofit foundation, and is open to visitors from mid-April to early November.  Visitors can explore the past, present and future of environmental sustainability and stewardship – brought to visitors through paved interpretive trails, interactive exhibits, film,. music, drama, guided tours, nature programs, craft demonstrations and special events.

The Cradle Of Forestry is located four miles south of the Blue Ridge Parkway, along the Forest Heritage National Scenic Byway (Route 276).  The surrounding Pisgah National Forest is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, offering hundreds of miles of hiking and bicycling trails, waterfalls, scenic overlooks and camping.

This historic site is truly a national treasure and a must for anyone with an appreciation of our outdoor heritage.

SOURCE:  Robert Beanblossom for the Asheville Citizen Times.

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