Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Cradle of Forestry

Four miles south of the Blue Ridge Parkway on Highway 276 is the Cradle of Forestry in America Historic Site, the birthplace of forest conservation in America. Located in the Pisgah National Forest, the Cradle of Forestry has long been on our list of places to explore in the region. Our first visit (which must have been 15 years ago!) was on a cold day sometime in the winter months, and it was closed – turns out it’s staffed by volunteers and closes seasonally, reopening in April weather permitting. Many years later we returned, this time on a long summer’s day – and missed their operating hours by a few minutes! On our recent day trip to Pisgah I thought we could try again, especially after I read the day of our visit was garden day; a chance to work in the gardens and hear from interpreters , the schedule included planting in the heritage garden, cleaning up the pollinator garden,  a visit to the Cradle’s Monarch Waystation and discourse on the conversion from turf to meadow.

Knowing that even with an early start, the 1.5 hour travel time from Greenville combined with the 2.2 mile Sam Knob hike wouldn’t leave a lot of time at the Cradle, I still felt it worth the stop. We arrived with two hours until closing, which definitely is not enough to fully explore the historic site. For that at least a day is needed, and that’s not including any special interpretive walks. Two hours was enough for a hike on one of the Cradle’s paved trails and a stop in the Forest Discovery Center.

pink lady's slipper


Forestry education really began in 1889, when George W. Vanderbilt purchased the first land holding in Asheville for his Biltmore Estate and hired Frederick Law Olmsted to oversee the design and construction of the gardens. Then he hired a young man by the name of Gifford Pinchot to serve as a “Forest Manager”, a previously unheard of position. Pinchot developed and implemented a forest management plan for Vanderbilt’s forested holdings and went on to serve as the first Chief of the USDA Forest Service and Governor of Pennsylvania. Pinchot’s successor at Biltmore was the German forester, Dr. Carl A. Schenck, who over the next 14 years restored the over-farmed and abused lands that today make up Pisgah National Forest into a productive forest.

the fish hatchery
We started our visit on the Forest Festival Trail, the 1.3 mile paved woodland walk that incorporates forestry and biology topics with historical features such as an antique portable sawmill and a 1915 Climax locomotive. The kids enhanced their hike by participating in the Adventure Zone stations, a collection of hands-on activities exploring various topics correlating to the trail exhibits. What’s unique about the Adventure Zone is that it’s designed to help children and adults with autism become active in and help better understand the natural world, although it can be enjoyed by anyone and all visitors are welcome to participate. And as that wasn’t enough, they also completed the nature-based scavenger hunt specifically structured around the Forest Festival Trail.

the historic 1915 logging locomotive

Back at the Center we explored the interactive exhibit hall. The Forest Discovery Center was amazing, with a fire fighting helicopter simulator and an ‘underground’ tunnel to become aquainted with the animals living under the forest floor. A building station and more than a dozen exhibits on forestry, the region’s history and Forest Service technicians kept us busy until it was time to leave – the Cradle was closing for the day.

checking out the firefighting video in the helicopter

The Cradle of Forestry is a must-see attraction for the area, a perfect stop for families with children and those interested in forestry and forest-related topics. In addition to special programs, on Thursdays through Sundays you may find a toy maker, a weaver, a quilter, or a wood carver demonstrating traditional Appalachian crafts on the open porches of the historic cabins.  In addition to the special events calendar, be sure to check out the kid’s summer program, and consider the Cradle for your school/group’s field trips. We still have several more trails to explore, and I would like a chance to watch the “There’s Magic at the Cradle” movie, so I know for a fact that we’ll be back. 

In commemoration of the centennial celebration of the Southern Region of the US Forest Service

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