Cradle of Forestry Celebrates Centennial of The Biltmore Forest School:
America's First School of Forestry
Brevard, NC (July 24, 1998)
The call to "Protect Our Forests!" has become a rallying cry for concerned environmentalists and a familiar part of the American lexicon. But in the same way nature rejuvenates, re-creates and repeats itself with each life cycle, the idea of building healthy forests isn't new. In fact, responsible forest management was what George Vanderbilt had in mind when, a century ago, he encouraged Dr. Carl Alwin Schenck to found the first school of forestry in America as a part of his North Carolina home, Biltmore Estate. This year, the Cradle of Forestry, located in the heart of Pisgah National Forest, marks the centennial of the Biltmore Forest School with a calendar of special events and activities.
Begun by German forester Carl Schenck at a time when scientific forestry was not practiced in the United States, the Biltmore Forest School was the first formal school designed to teach forestry and the conservation of our nation's abundant woodlands. Today, celebrating what began in 1898, the Cradle of Forestry continues its original mission of creating understanding and appreciation for the well-being of our nation's forestland. In the late 1880s, Frederick Law Olmsted, considered the father of landscape architecture in America, suggested that Vanderbilt make his Biltmore Estate a managed forest. In a country where natural resources had always seemed boundless, Olmsted's suggestion was radically new, and Vanderbilt's vast holdings were already showing signs of depletion from its previous owners. Olmsted wrote, "It would be of great value to the country to have a thoroughly well organized and a systematically conducted attempt in forestry made on a large scale." It was clear to Olmsted that Vanderbilt's overgrazed and cut-over land would benefit from the practice of scientific forestry, which promised a revenue-generating crop and the beauty of lush woodlands. Foreseeing its national significance, Vanderbilt and Olmsted hired the only trained American forester, Gifford Pinchot, and implemented the first forest management program in the United States. Pinchot developed and administered the plan for three years before leaving the property in 1895 to later supervise the U.S. Forest Service as its first chief. To ensure the continuation of the Biltmore project, he and Vanderbilt secured the appointment of German forester Carl Schenck.
Faced with the daunting task of improving the native forest and planting depleted old fields, Schenck soon required the assistance of skilled, trained workers. Yet, other than Gifford Pinchot, there were simply no American foresters in practice at that time. "Schenck believed that America's forests required a highly trained work force and that his expertise could make that a reality," says Mike Milosch, Cradle of Forestry Director. "Once he encouraged apprentices to accompany him during his work, it probably seemed natural to start a school and formally share his love and knowledge of this new science." The Biltmore Forest School was born. America's first school of forestry opened its doors on September 1, 1898, with a rigorous 12-month course of study, including morning daily lectures, afternoon field work, a required internship and a thesis describing the experience. For $200 to $300 a year in tuition fees, Schenck taught the 365 students himself, often using textbooks which he had written on a variety of topics such as surveying, mapping, forest policy and protection. Referring to Schenck's habit of wearing old German military uniforms, his students nicknamed the handlebar-mustached educator "The Kaiser." Inspiring respect and affection among his classes, Schenck's colorful, yet firm teaching style made him an admired mentor.
The Biltmore Forest School became a successful and self-supporting enterprise, directing more than half of its graduates into challenging and meaningful forestry work. One noted graduate, Overton Price, became an Associate Forester of the United States under Pinchot at the U.S. Forest Service. Many others became district, regional or state foresters. After leaving Biltmore Estate in 1909, Schenck took his school on the road and graduated his last class in 1913. Within the span of these fifteen years, 83 American colleges and universities had started offering forestry education programs. Upon Vanderbilt's untimely death in 1914, his wife, Edith Vanderbilt, sold over 80,000 acres of the family estate to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, honoring her husband's dedication to forest conservation. Two years later, this land became the nucleus of Pisgah National Forest, the first national forest east of the Mississippi. In 1964 the U.S. Forest Service dedicated 6,500 acres of that property, named the Cradle of Forestry in America, to commemorate the beginnings of managed forestry practices.
Located near Brevard, NC, the Cradle of Forestry still houses the very buildings which produced the nation's first generation of foresters. Visitors experience several walking trails, complete with a logging locomotive, original sawmill and antique forestry equipment, as well as the state-of-the-art Forest Discovery Center with fifteen new interactive exhibits. In addition to educational programs for children and adults, the Cradle emphasizes traditional mountain living with demonstrations by craftsmen, quilters, woodcarvers and weavers. During this centennial year, guests can expect a number of additional events, including the formal opening of the new Dr. Carl Schenck Education Wing in the Forest Discovery Center. The Education Wing will feature two classrooms and a conference room, designated for special programs and events. Located just four miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway on U.S. Hwy. 276, the Cradle of Forestry in America is open late April through October. Admission is $4 for adults, $2 for children ages 6 to 17 and free for children 5 years old and younger. Group rates are available. For more information, call (828) 877-3130 or visit www.cradleofforestry.com.
Today, Asheville's Biltmore Estate, now 8,000 acres, is still owned and operated by George Washington Vanderbilt's grandson, William A. V. Cecil. Biltmore Estate is open from 9 A.M. until 5 P.M., except Thanksgiving and Christmas Days. Admission to the estate includes Biltmore House, Gardens and Winery and enables the estate to remain private and self- sufficient, receiving no governmental funding or grant monies.
For more information about Biltmore Estate, contact The Biltmore Company, One North Pack Square, Asheville, NC 28801, phone (800) 411-2529.