Cradle of Forestry

I started out early in the morning in hopes of catching some photos from the Blue Ridge Parkway of the morning fog rising between the mountains.  Many scenic overlooks offer views of the valleys and lakes in the distance. There is something primal about standing on the top of a mountain where the wind first descends from the clouds and sets the pine trees dancing to heavenly music.

The Cradle of Forestry is a complex with an exhibition hall and hiking trails around the first forestry school in America.  In 1888 George Vanderbilt bought his first 2000 acres of eroded farmland and over-harvested woods.  The science of forestry – growing trees for specific usage – was a new concept in Europe and just beginning to make the rounds in this country when Gifford Pinchot wrote that “trees could be cut and the forest preserved at one and the same time.”  In other words, progress and preservation could coexist.   Because of the foresight of these men, the Pisgah National Forest was later created and protected for us to enjoy now and years into the future.

The Forest Festival Trail winds through the regenerated forest, past the sawmill and the logging train.  Huge trout group together in the pond by the footbridge.  Rhododendron thickets with their twisted trunks make sanctuary for several species of birds.  Both trails are fairly easy, but I would recommend carrying a bottle of water and taking your time to enjoy what you see.

The school that operated for 15 years is still standing for visitors to tour on the Biltmore Campus Trail, along with the blacksmith shop and other buildings.   The Black Forest Lodge with its distinctive Alpine look reflects Dr. Schenck’s Bavarian influence.  One man demonstrated gee-haw whimmy diddles on the porch of the commissary, while another was wood carving at the students’ quarters, and a woman was weaving on a log loom in the ranger’s house.  The cabins with their vintage furnishings are very photogenic in their woodland settings. I thought the female scarecrow looked a little familiar – maybe a former algebra teacher?

I like to visit places like this on slow days, when I can let my feet and mind wander.  Wood smoke drifted around the cabin like a time machine.  For a few minutes, I could picture myself quilting on the front porch in one of the rocking chairs.  I was brought back to the present time by a group of children seeing a weaving loom for the first time.  A mother took pictures of her 2 little boys playing with hand-made wooden toys with as much zeal as any electronic gizmo.  I’m not sure progress is such a good thing. Dr. Schenck learned that we can replant a forest – can we replace a dairy farm once it is gone?  Will our grandchildren see cut hay drying in swirls and rows in the hot sun, or will the fields have been bulldozed into oblivion?

Directions from Franklin:  441N 19 miles; right on 23N 13 miles; left on Blue Ridge Parkway (you may want to go ahead on Hwy 23 to rest area and come back to Parkway – there are no rest areas on Parkway) 37 miles; take 276S exit to Cradle of Forestry.  We came back on 276 through downtown Waynesville for supper, than 23S back toFranklin.

www.cradleofforestry.com