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Celebrating 100 years of Pisgah Forest

Posted on 03/04/2014 by Judy Ross

This May marks a significant milestone for both Biltmore and Pisgah National Forest: the 100th anniversary of Edith Vanderbilt selling part of the estate to the U.S. government to create the first national forest east of the Mississippi River.

George Vanderbilt acquired Pisgah Forest under the direction of his forest manager, Gifford Pinchot, as part of his land holdings which eventually totaled 125,000 acres. Pinchot, who later served as the first chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, developed a forest management plan for the property. In 1895, Dr. Carl A. Schenck succeeded Pinchot, and continued and expanded the plan over the next 14 years. Dr. Schenck founded the Biltmore Forest School—the first school of forestry in the U.S.—graduating more than 300 of the nation’s first professionally-trained foresters.

GWV and friends at Looking Glass RockIn addition to its educational opportunities, Pisgah Forest was also a favorite camping site for George and Edith Vanderbilt and their friends. They traveled to the area to enjoy the spectacular scenery of Looking Glass Rock in Transylvania County, along with the Pink Beds known for dense areas of rhododendron and mountain laurel.

While the Vanderbilts originally had offered to sell 86,000 acres of Pisgah Forest in 1913, the offer was rejected. After her husband’s death in March 1914, Edith Vanderbilt resumed negotiations with the Secretary of Agriculture, David Franklin Houston.

In her May 1 letter, she stated her family’s interest in preserving the property:
“Mr. Vanderbilt was the first of the large forest owners in America to adopt the practice of forestry. He has conserved Pisgah Forest from the time he bought it up to his death, a period of nearly twenty five years, under the firm conviction that every forest owner owes it to those who follow him, to hand down his forest property to them unimpaired by wasteful use.

I keenly sympathize with his belief that the private ownership of forest land is a public trust, and I probably realize more keenly than any one else can do, how firm was his resolve never to permit injury to the permanent value and usefulness of Pisgah Forest. I wish earnestly to make such disposition of Pisgah Forest as will maintain in the fullest and most permanent way its national value as an object lesson in forestry, as well as its wonderful beauty and charm; and I realize that its ownership by the Nation will alone make its preservation permanent and certain…

I make this contribution towards the public ownership of Pisgah Forest with the earnest hope that in this way I may help to perpetuate my husband’s pioneer work in forest conservation, and to insure the protection and use and enjoyment of Pisgah Forest as a National Forest, by the American people for all time….

In the event that my offer is accepted, I shall be glad for the Government to assume control of Pisgah Forest as soon as it may desire. In the same event, it would be a source of very keen gratification to me if the tract retained, as a national Forest, the title of “Pisgah Forest”, which my late husband gave it.”
Very truly yours,
Edith S. Vanderbilt

Pisgah National Forest was dedicated to the memory of George Vanderbilt in a 1920 public ceremony attended by Edith Vanderbilt and her daughter Cornelia, N.C. Governor Locke Craig, and George S. Powell, secretary of the Appalachian Park Association.

Today, the Cradle of Forestry is a 6,500-acre Historic Site within Pisgah National Forest, set aside to commemorate the beginning of forestry conservation in America and the lasting contributions of George Vanderbilt, Gifford Pinchot, and Dr. Carl Schenck.

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