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NAI Sunny Southeast Blog

For the original post on the NAI website please click here

Interpreters we are, students we are always

As interpreters sometimes we can temporarily lose sight of just how much we impact visitor perception of our site, state, region, or even our country. My most recent trip to Nicaragua spawned reflections regarding this importance. Some of the most memorable “interpreters” I have met while traveling probably wouldn’t consider themselves more than educational guides having never heard of the concept, let alone our holy book of Tilden’s guiding principles.

Here are some of my thoughts and experiences with education and interpretation in two very different countries:

South Africa: I spent a total of 4 months in South Africa. In 2014 I volunteered on a nature reserve for 3 months, then in 2015 returned for a few weeks to celebrate my friend’s marriage and explore places that I couldn’t afford as a volunteer. In both years I visited iMfolozi-Hluhluwe (“hl” together form a sort of shlurping sound) Game Reserves. A summary- there are trail guides, and then there are phenomenally outstanding interpretive trail guides. I took this message home after my second visit. My first visit to the game reserve was through the Wilderness Leadership School’s trails program. Visitors are guided into the wilderness areas of the reserve by foot, camping and taking turns to keep watch for sneaky, curious lions at night.


Mandla Buthelezi passing out white rhino dung samples to show the plant types white rhinos prefer versus the black rhino.

We spent 3 nights, 4 days in the South African wilderness and it was an experience that forever has connected me to the rhythmic beats of the African bush and its wildlife. Falling in love with the wilderness does not take much more than a sight of a journey of giraffe at dusk, or rhino wallowing in mud just across the river. The connection, where it deepened for me, was in the interpretive quality from my guides (both named Mandla). Mandla M. was quieter. Not able to speak English fluently he kept watch for wildlife as Mandla B. used charisma, theatrical animal impressions, and passion to guide us through everything from rhino dung and courtship to conservation issues of Africa. Their personalities were polar and where most participants I imagine connect with Mandla B. and his love for riddles around the campfire, I found enjoyment in Mandla M.’s company and introspective feelings for life in the wilderness. Never would I have imagined squatting in the middle of a river scrubbing dirty pans with elephant dung while having life altering conversations with Mandla M. Even before I had learned about interpretation myself, I looked up to the way these men connected with us and shared their universal love for conservation.

Fast forward one year and 3 months.


Sleepy white rhino became a road block at 4:30 am on my drive to meet my trail guide.

With a rental car and solo freedom I drove into Hluhluwe near dusk. I signed into my rondavel just after dark, and scheduled for a guide to take me on an early morning walk through the bush. Excited, I barely slept and promptly woke up earlier than my 3:30am alarm. I drove to meet my guide, who was an hour late. No mind, it’s South African time. He answered my questions very simply and would listen for bird calls to promptly identify the voice’s owner. He barely spoke, which was okay, I allowed by mind to wander in keen observation of each dung beetle, flower and slight movements, with the safety of someone holding a rifle for those “just in case” instances. We hardly connected, and I felt that I could have been replaced with any other group and the walk would have been identical. We sat for a break (actually, we were hiding downwind from an agitated rhino) and listened to the birds. My guide, with me sitting between him and his rifle 20 feet away, fell asleep and began snoring. (Just imagine Tilden’s horror!) Whether his knowledge was competent or not, I stifled further questions and simply reconnected emotionally with the bush after my year’s absence. I no longer trusted my safety to this man nor any info he could offer me.

Fast forward one more year to western Nicaragua.


Me during a 2-day hike thru Las Penitas volcanic range. Volcan Momotombo is behind me and Volcan Momotombito behind that.

Language barriers often are hurdles in education. An exceptional interpreter I find somehow manages to reach beyond that barrier. Their intuitive observation tells them your interests and they do what they can to adhere to that. Take 20-year old Kevin for example.

While in Esteli, Nicarauga I signed up for a one night homestay in Miraflor Nature Reserve. In addition to the homestay their son, Kevin, offered guided walks. Kevin spoke almost solely Spanish and although I studied the language I am by no means fluent and maintain a mediocre vocabulary. Kevin and I immediately established a connection over reptiles and amphibians, and he quickly attuned to my love of plants. (Granted, I’m fairly easy to read due to the fact that I kept falling behind to crouch to the ground and admire a plethora of tiny plants.)


Kevin “playing” the Angel’s Trumpet (Datura sp.) during our walk through pastures and forests in Miraflor Nature Reserve.

Kevin has lived in Miraflor his entire life and since he knew I love snakes he shared many stories of personal encounters. The memories he shared of boyhood in Miraflor and the ways he connected with the forest pulled at my heartstrings and reminded me of the connections we individually and as a society have with our forests. Kevin and I do not share the same culture, the same traditions, the same upbringing. But we both shared our love of the wild places we grew up and live in. That evening Kevin took me to a nearby pond where as a boy he would catch frogs. We spent a couple of hours on the water’s edge discovering invertebrates excitingly new to both of us. Through the light from my headlamp I watched a hummingbird get attacked by a bat and found some of the largest toads! Nature play is the universal language.

nicaragua-frogNo matter the certifications we gain or the classes and workshops we attend, the real driving forces for a successful interpreter is passion and an ability to look beyond another’s culture, beliefs, language, or status. The Mandlas and Kevin made me feel equal in a country that wasn’t my own and afforded the opportunity to see the natural world through their eyes. To reach a shared interest, whatever that may be, is up to us as interpreters. These lessons are things I am continually reminded of at the Cradle of Forestry in America. In a single day I may speak with children, young married couples, retired foresters, or international travelers. And in this next year I aim to ask myself more, “Is my language (body, actions, words, etc.) universal?”

Peeling Back the Bark: FHS

The Gift of the Pisgah National Forest

October 17, 2016 by Jamie Lewis

On October 17, 1916, the Pisgah National Forest was the first national forest established under the Weeks Act of 1911. Written by FHS historian Jamie Lewis, this post was originally published in the online version of the Asheville Citizen-Times on October 14, 2016, and in print on October 16 to mark the centennial.

“When people walk around this forest … at every step of the way, they’re encountering nature, some of which has been regenerated by the initiatives of those generations they know not—they know nothing about. And I think that that’s ultimately the greatest gift: that you’ve given to them beautiful, working landscapes and you don’t know where they came from.”

Historian Char Miller closes our new documentary film, America’s First Forest, by acknowledging those who labored to create the Pisgah National Forest, which celebrates its centennial on October 17. We chose that quote because it simultaneously summed up the Pisgah’s history and looked to its future by implicitly asking who would carry on the work of the early generations in managing this national forest.

Miller is right. The Pisgah is a gift from many people—some whose names are familiar but many whose names are not. Most have heard of George Vanderbilt, or his Biltmore Estate. His greatest gift, however, was not to himself but to the nation. He hired renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to design Biltmore’s grounds. Creator of New York’s Central Park and other urban green spaces, Olmsted saw in this project opportunity to give back to the nation, and through Vanderbilt a way to do so. In 1890, Vanderbilt needed a forester. America needed forestry. Olmsted advised hiring a professional forester who would demonstrate to America that one could cut trees and preserve the forest at the same time.

Vanderbilt hired Gifford Pinchot, who then crafted the first-ever sustainable forest management plan in the United States. Pinchot later gave back to the country in his own way: in 1905, he established the U.S. Forest Service, providing the nation with an institution to manage its national forests and grasslands. But before leaving Vanderbilt’s employ in 1895, Pinchot did two things: he facilitated Vanderbilt’s purchase of an additional 100,000 acres, which Vanderbilt named Pisgah Forest, and he recommended hiring German forester Carl Schenck to implement his management plan.

Schenck’s “experimental” practices not only restored the forest but also improved its wildlife and fish habitat. This turned Pisgah Forest into a revenue source as well as a playground for its owner: a sustainably managed forest can provide all those things and more.

In 1898 Schenck established the Biltmore Forest School—the country’s first forestry school—to educate men wanting to become forest managers or owners. Many of the nearly 400 graduates also served in the Forest Service. The impact of Schenck’s gift is still seen on public and private forests today. Thankfully Congress preserved the school grounds as the Cradle of Forestry in America historic site.

On top, George W. Vanderbilt; next to him, his friend and physician, Dr. S. W. Battle; next, Mrs. Edith Vanderbilt in her riding suit; lowest, Miss Marion Olmsted, daughter of the famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. (FHS356)

On top, George W. Vanderbilt; next to him, his friend and physician, Dr. S. W. Battle; next, Mrs. Edith Vanderbilt in her riding suit; lowest, Miss Marion Olmsted, daughter of the famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. Photo taken in 1901 at Lookingglass Rock. (FHS356)

These men are not the only ones to thank for the Pisgah National Forest. In 1899 Asheville physician Chase Ambler mobilized citizens to protect the region’s scenery and climate. Pressured by conservation groups from the South and New England, Congress passed the Weeks Act of 1911, which empowered the federal government to purchase private land for the Forest Service to manage. This legislative gift pleased not only preservationists like Ambler by protecting scenery and recreation areas, but also conservationists because the land remained available for logging and other extractive activities.

In 1914 George Vanderbilt’s widow, Edith, sold Pisgah Forest for a fraction of its value in part to “perpetuate” the conservation legacy of her husband, and as a “contribution” to the American people. Pisgah Forest became the nucleus of the Pisgah National Forest, the first established under the Weeks Act, and Biltmore Forest School graduate Verne Rhoades became its first supervisor, in 1916.

But that is the past. The future of the Pisgah National Forest (and its neighbor the Nantahala) is being written now. The U.S. Forest Service is drafting a forest management plan to guide how it manages the forests for the next dozen or so years. At public meetings, the Forest Service has been hearing from citizens and groups like the Pisgah Conservancy to help it craft the forest’s future. Like Carl Schenck and Vern Rhoades before them, Pisgah’s current managers face great uncertainties, only now in the form of forest pests and disease, climate change, and a place so attractive that its visitors are “loving it to death.” Those who cherish the Pisgah for its “beautiful, working landscapes” can honor those who gave us that gift by continuing to sustainably manage it. That can ultimately be our greatest gift to future generations.

Normally the entrance to a national forest has a small sign with the Forest Service shield on it. This entrance to the Pisgah National Forest was a memorial arch constructed to honor the memory of the men of Transylvania County, North Carolina, killed in World War I. (U.S. Forest Service photo -- negative number 185843)

Normally the entrance to a national forest has a small sign with the Forest Service shield on it. This entrance to the Pisgah National Forest was a memorial arch constructed to honor the memory of the men of Transylvania County, North Carolina, killed in World War I. (U.S. Forest Service photo — negative number 185843)

The original post by Jamie Lewis can be found here

NAI Sunny Southeast “BioBlitz Bliss” by Cindy Carpenter

For the original NAI post on their website please click here.

BioBlitz Bliss

BioBlitz Bliss by Cindy Carpenter

This past weekend we held the first ever and long awaited bioblitz at the Cradle of Forestry in America, Pisgah National Forest. The Pink Beds BioBlitz, named for a high elevation valley that, as folklore goes, settlers named long ago for flowers, was a great success. This success was not due to the number of participants or the number of species recorded, but that it happened at all.

I have been intrigued with the concept of bioblitzes since reading an article in an NAI Nature Center Administrators section newsletter a decade ago. It described engaging scientists and other experts in an all-taxa kind of survey over a 24-hour period. This year timing and capacity aligned grant funds from the US Forest Service recreation program and the energy of an imaginative co-worker, Courtney Long. Courtney dealt with many moving pieces while leading the effort to engage youth and adults alike in observing nature and learning about a southern Appalachian forest ecosystem while spending time on their public lands.

The Pink Beds picnic area served as the center of operations for the bioblitz. Here participants visited booths staffed with specialists on fungi and bryophytes. They learned about the hemlock woolly adelgid threatening biodiversity. They browsed a vast selection of field guides at an identification assistance booth. They learned about the iNaturalist app, a tool for recording findings and getting help with species identification, and won items in raffles to help them explore the world around them.

During the Pink Beds BioBlitz forest visitors joined guided walks and activities at selected locations along a trail from the picnic area. An all-species guided walk was led by volunteers from the Blue Ridge Naturalists. Other walks and searches focused on birds, reptiles and amphibians, trees and shrubs, aquatic macroinvertebrates and fish. The leaders of these experiences humbly conveyed their passion, knowledge and love of learning about the natural world, and their enthusiasm was contagious. They recorded results on a large white board visible to all attendees.

Surprises were the number of salamander species found on a single stump during a night time exploration. A highlight for me was witnessing in late afternoon light a bat catch insects active over a stream and dipping for a drink on the wing.

This first bioblitz in the Pisgah National Forest showed that natural resource partners and specialists welcome the opportunity to interact with the public and engage them in discovery and discussion. Although we were prepared for many more participants than the approximately 60 who attended, Courtney’s plans, equipment purchases and networking laid the groundwork for future endeavors to engage the public in nature education.
Time invested in nature study is time well spent, and technology tools common today add an entertaining and meaningful dimension that did not exist a decade ago. From our public lands to our backyards it is fun to learn and share the diversity of life around us every day. Bioblitz bliss!

Stream explorers observe the behavior and characteristics of aquatic invertebrates during the Pink Beds BioBlitz in the Pisgah National Forest.

Stream explorers observe the behavior and characteristics of aquatic invertebrates during the Pink Beds BioBlitz in the Pisgah National Forest.

Nature enthusiasts learn and share along the "all species" walk during the Pink Beds BioBlitz this past weekend.

Nature enthusiasts learn and share along the “all species” walk during the Pink Beds BioBlitz this past weekend.

Schenck You and Ribbon Cutting

In 2016 during the annual “Schenck You” event the Pisgah Field School, which operates under the non-profit Cradle of Forestry in America Interpretive Association, hosted their ribbon cutting ceremony. Schenck You is an after hours event where sponsors, partners, volunteers and the like are invited for appreciation and celebration of their services.

This clip was published by Channel 70 Productions on YouTube in 2016. 

Digital Heritage

The following is an article published by Digital Heritage. 

The Cradle of Forestry

Planning his Biltmore Estate in the late 1800s, George W. Vanderbilt hired Frederick Law Olmstead to create several acres of magnificent gardens and to design the terraces and grounds adjacent to the main house. Olmstead is also well known as the person who designed New York’s Central Park and the landscape around the Capitol Building in Washington D.C.

At Olmstead’s recommendation, Vanderbilt next hired Gifford Pinchot to manage the estate’s additional acreage – approximately 125,000 acres of rugged Appalachian forestland. At the time there were fewer than ten individuals in the nation with any formal forest-management training – and they had all received that training in Europe. Pinchot’s arrival in Western North Carolina marked the beginning of “scientific forestry” in the United States. Soon after beginning his employment at Biltmore, Pinchot was selected to become the director of the newly formed USDA Forest Service. Pinchot suggested Vanderbilt hire as his successor Dr. Carl A. Schenck, of Germany’s University of Darmstadt. Schenck’s arrival in 1895 began a tradition of regional scholarship, preservation, and conservation that eventually evolved into the Pisgah National Forest’s Cradle of Forestry.

With Vanderbilt’s support, Dr. Schenck founded the Biltmore Forestry School in 1898. Classes first met in the village of Biltmore, upstairs in what is now the headquarters of the Biltmore Company, a building now registered as a National Historic Landmark. Eventually classes were moved to the Biltmore Estate. As the season warmed, classes were conducted within what would become the Pisgah National Forest. There was a community deep in that forest named “Pink Beds.” Many of the old mountain cabins and farm homes within this community became the “campus” of the Biltmore Forest School. One building, a single-room community school and church, served as the forestry school’s classroom.

At the school, students were taught the management methods needed to utilize and conserve forest resources in order to create a continual supply of goods. It was Vanderbilt’s vision that the Biltmore Estate develope and maintain a high degree of self-sufficiency. At the Biltmore Forest School, science and nature combined to satisfy this vision. Some of the nation’s first examples of controlled logging resulted from the school’s efforts and successes. One observer called the process a beautiful illustration of how the Industrial Revolution could coexist with great forests. However, the school’s existence was about to change.

George Vanderbilt died in 1914. Soon after, his widow sold over 100,000 acres of timberland to the United States government. Consequently, the Biltmore Forest School lost its “natural classroom.” After more than a decade of training students in timber and water management, the school closed. During its life, the school had graduated over 350 students. By the time the Biltmore Forest School closed over 60 universities in the nation offered classes in silviculture (the cultivation of forest trees).

In another way, the huge land sale proved beneficial. The federal government used its purchase of the Vanderbilt tract to lay the groundwork for the eventual establishment of the 500,000-acre Pisgah National Forest. In addition, a 6,500-acre site was set aside to commemorate the beginning of forestry conservation in the United States. Today, that site is the home of the Cradle of Forestry.

The Cradle of Forestry enables visitors to experience Appalachian mountain life as it would have been at the turn of the 20th century. Local crafters recreate the skills that would have been required for survival by the residents of the rugged region during that period. Along a one-mile route called the Biltmore Campus Trail visitors can interact with spinners, weavers, woodsmen, quilters, toymakers, basket makers, and blacksmiths.

The Cradles’s other tributes to its heritage include an 18-minute movie that tells the story of the birth of scientific forestry management. It acknowledges the activities and contributions of Vanderbilt, Pinchot, and Schenck. In addition there are an interactive exhibit hall, a gift shop, and a café. Seven historic buildings remain standing on the site, nestled beside an old sawmill and a 1915 Climax logging locomotive. An excellent reconstruction of the first building that housed the field school for the Biltmore Forest School is located along the historic trek. The Cradle of Forestry is a designated National Historic Site. Recently, it conducted a special event celebrating 100 years of forestry education in the United States, 1898-1998.


Visit: https://digitalheritage.org/2014/01/cradle-of-forestry-2/ for the original article and a 1-minute Digital Heritage Moment radio broadcast

Visit Waterfalls NC Clip

Cindy Carpenter has led interpretation and education programs at the Cradle for many years. This video by Visit Waterfalls NC was published to YouTube in 2012. 

Peeling Back the Bark: FHS

The original post from “Peeling Back the Bark”  on the Forest History Society blog can be found here.

October 20, 1964: Cradle of Forestry Dedication Ceremony

On this day in 1964, foresters, government officials, and others gathered near Asheville, North Carolina, at the site of the historic Biltmore Forest School. At this joint annual meeting of the American Forestry Association and the North Carolina Forestry Association, officials laid the cornerstone of the U.S. Forest Service Visitor Information Center, dedicating the Cradle of Forestry in America.

The Cradle of Forestry was envisioned as a unique indoor-outdoor museum that would celebrate the significance of the Pisgah National Forest lands to the history of forestry in the United States.

  • Here, America’s first trained native-born forester, Gifford Pinchot, managed the thousands of forested acres owned by George W. Vanderbilt. Beginning in 1892, Pinchot initiated large-scale scientific forest management practices on the Biltmore and Pisgah lands.
  • Pinchot’s successor, Dr. Carl A. Schenck, opened the first forestry school in America. The Biltmore Forest School operated on the estate from 1898 to 1907.
  • Passed in 1911, the Weeks Law granted the federal government authority to purchase private lands for inclusion in national forests. Following the passage of the Weeks Law, several tracts of Vanderbilt’s land were among the first purchased by the U.S. Forest Service. Incorporating these tracts, a proclamation signed by Woodrow Wilson in 1916 officially established the Pisgah National Forest.

At the cornerstone-laying ceremony, Forest Service Chief Edward P. Cliff delivered remarks, which included a memorandum he drafted for a one-hundred year time capsule. Addressed to the Chief of the Forest Service in 2064, the memorandum provides interesting points to consider:

“I would like to glimpse the technological advances and the wealth of knowledge that you and your colleagues have at your fingertips. I know that it must surpass by far anything we can imagine here in 1964. Yet I am equally sure that you need all of these and more to solve what must be incredibly difficult and complex problems of forest management. . . .

“As a forester, my greatest hope is that in the decades which separate our careers, our people will have proved to be good stewards of our natural resources. It pleases me to think that each generation of foresters during this interval will have been able to build upon the work of their predecessors — just as your generation is benefiting from trees established, protected, and nurtured by us in the mid-Twentieth Century.”

The Forest History Society maintains materials related to this dedication ceremony, including newspaper clippings, event programs, brochures, and artifacts. Cleverly, the Cradle of Forestry planners printed maps and site information on litter bags given to visitors:

Perhaps the most “flavorful” part of the tour involves the description of the Student Quarters:

The materials featured above may be found in our U.S. Forest Service History Collection, under “Forestry Schools/Education: Cradle of Forestry.”

To support further research on the birth of American forestry, the Forest History Society holds several archival and image collections related to the Biltmore School, early foresters, the Forest Service, and lumber companies.  Such collections include:

Additionally, FHS has collaborated with N.C. State University, UNC Asheville, and the Biltmore Estate to present The Rise of American Forestry: From Education to Practice. I suspect Chief Cliff would be impressed by the “technological advances and the wealth of knowledge” at our fingertips.