About 15 years ago I was fresh off an 800 mile stint hiking the Appalachian Trail.
I was back home in Asheville and I was having a hard time figuring out what to do with myself. I was broke, out of sorts, out of money, and covered in mosquito bites.
I needed a job…bad. I racked my brain trying to come up with a “skill” I could offer the world and I was mostly coming up with a bunch of nothing. I was down to my last few handfuls of gorp (good ole raisins and peanuts, for the uninitiated) and could no longer stand the site of a box of mac and cheese (still can’t).
The only thing I had to offer was the ability to carry a very heavy load on my back and climb up and down mountains…all…day…long. I guess miracles do happen because I actually found a place where they pay people to do this! Oh, there was one little catch…you have to let anywhere from 8 to 12 boy scouts come with you! It’s always something I guess.
Camp Daniel Boone boy scout camp was home base; from there the high adventure staff would take scouts on weeklong backpacking trips. There were several different treks to choose from: Joyce Kilmer, Art Loeb, Appalachian Trail, etc.
My favorite trek was what we high adventure staff liked to call “the backyard,” Pisgah National Forest. I dragged those little scouts all over shining rock wilderness and we’d occasionally hop on over to the Cradle of Forestry. I had hiked around Shining Rock several times before, but it was while working at Camp Daniel Boone that I’d heard of Pink Beds and the Cradle of Forestry for the first time.
The names alone are so intriguing…so comforting…the Cradle of Forestry…ah…the Pink Beds…oooh. Sounds dreamy.
Beyond waxing poetic to myself, shamefully, I never really learned much about how they came to be.
Fast forward 15 years later. I’m in my grown-up, steady job here in the NC Room and I’m processing the Biltmore Village Museum Collection (MS210*) when I come across materials about Biltmore Forest School. Now I’m learning about and truly appreciating the history of this place instead of ignorantly herding a gaggle of boy scouts through it!
Before processing this collection I only had a vague outline in my mind about what Biltmore Forestry School was really all about.
What an amazing undertaking this was! From all accounts the forestry students worked very hard and played even harder.
To give you a condensed history, here is a quote from romanticasheville.com:
“On Olmstead’s recommendation that the estate needed a “Forest Manager” Vanderbilt hired a man by the name of Gifford Pinchot. Pinchot, who would later serve as the first Chief of the USDA Forest Service and Governor of Pennsylvania, developed and implemented a forest management plan for Vanderbilt’s forested holdings.
Subsequently, in 1895, German forester Dr. Carl A. Schenck accepted George Vanderbilt’s offer to come to North Carolina to succeed Gifford Pinchot as manager of his vast forest properties. For the next 14 years, Dr. Schenck focused all of his forestry skills on transforming these woodlands that we know today as Pisgah National Forest.”
This new profession of forestry was drawing much interest. Schenck saw the need for an official forestry school. Biltmore Forest School came into being in 1898. Schenck taught a lot more than just forestry. From an article by Bowling Yates in American Forests magazine, Nov. 1976:
“In the Pink Beds Schenck also taught survival. He felt foresters ought to be self-sufficient, so he provided neither dormitory nor dining hall. The boys repaired old buildings for headquarters, improvised furniture, sought food and cooked for themselves. They picked berries and made pies, shot rabbits and learned to fry them.”
Carl Schenck seemed to be respected and even adored by his students.
A few photocopied pages of the diary of forestry student, J.E. Benedict in 1906-1907 gives a glimpse into the active and vibrant lives of these students.
Their days were filled with field work, lectures, hiking, swimming, playing baseball, and throwing back a whole lot of beer… Nice work if you can get it.
Benedict mentions zoology lectures, panning for gold, looking for talc mines, examining animal skins, and even dining on rattlesnake.
After my workday is done, I think I’ll go for a hike…
Without the Boy Scouts.
POSTED BY LYME KEDIC