Kirk P. Rodgers, Grandson of Maryland's First State
It’s hard to overestimate the significance of the event we are celebrating today. There are moments in history are turning points. The Garrett family’s gift of this land to the State of Maryland in 1906, and the conditions that were attached to that gift, marked such a turning point. It launched a process of change in how we manage our forests that all Marylanders can feel proud of today. It signaled the beginning of the century of accomplishment in scientific management of forests and parks that we have been honoring for the past year and a half in our celebration of the Maryland Forestry and Parks Centennial (1906-2006). I am proud to be standing here with the grandson of Robert Garrett to pay tribute to that moment and to recognize the role that our forbearers played in what happened a century ago and in what we see around us today.
In early 1906 my grandfather, Fred W. Besley, was busy directing planting of pine seedlings in a remote area in Colorado, known as Clementine Gulch, when a horseback rider arrived bearing a telegram for him. He was employed at the time by the recently created US Forest Service and was living in a tent camp 10 miles from the nearest telegraph station. The telegram contained a job offer for the position of Maryland State Forester. Grandfather later recounted that he didn’t even know that Maryland had created a Forestry Board and a Forest Service, let alone that a job was available. But he knew that the offer to him had been made on the recommendation of Gifford Pinchot, the Chief of the US Forest Service whom he greatly admired. He was skeptical initially about employment in Maryland State government, but once he was assured that the job was to be independent of Maryland politics, he accepted. Thus began an extraordinary 36 year career that helped change the face of Maryland forestry.
So a century ago, as a result of the gift of the Garrett family, Fred Besley began his association with this place and the county and region in which it is located. I agree with my friend Francis Zumbrun that Garrett County might well be considered the “Cradle of Maryland Forestry”, at least as it relates to the Maryland Forest Service and Fred Besley. Champ has reminded me that this is where my grandfather began his famous inventory of Maryland’s forests which attracted national attention. This is where the first 3 fire towers were built to help locate forest fires (43 were eventually constructed in the state). This is where some of the first fire wardens were recruited. They were an elite group of men and women who helped combat forest fires and educate the public about them. Last October they were honored in a ceremony and dedication of a plaque near the Thayerville Forest Fire Lookout Tower in the Deep Creek Lake State Park.
The 1200 acres which the Garrett family donated to the state became the core of the publicly owned forest lands in Maryland. Before grandfather retired in 1942 at age 70 Garrett County held 50,000 of the 100,000 acres of forest owned by the state. State ownership of forest land has today grown to 500,000 acres and attracts 12 million visitors annually.
The recreation value of these lands was recognized early on by Fred Besley. In the 1930’s the CCC built log cabins at nearby Herrington Manor and at the New Germany State Park. I can testify personally that grandfather saw to it that his own family grew to appreciate the recreational value of these places. Every other summer my family spent two weeks in the log cabins at New Germany. Climbing nearby High Rock Fire Tower was an annual requirement. As I recall, it took me three years before I had the courage to climb all the way to the top.
In 1940, near the end of his career as State Forester, grandfather brought skiing to Maryland. The first ski slope was in New Germany State Park. I was deeply disappointed as an 8 year old to be informed that I was too young to go skiing in what my mother referred to as “primitive conditions”. When I learned that my dad was taking my toboggan to use on the ski slopes I was doubly disappointed. Today we take skiing in Garrett County for granted and the conditions are far from primitive.
Throughout the century the forests owned by the State have served as demonstration areas where the public can learn about sound scientific management as mentioned in the 1906 Forest Conservation Act that was passed as a result of the initiative of the Garrett family in donating this land. Fred Besley placed great importance on the role of state forests as demonstration areas for teaching the practice of good forestry. The Garrett family had these same goals in their original donation. If grandfather Besley were here with us today he would be especially pleased with the forestry demonstration tour that we will be doing today after this ceremony. Grandfather was a teacher before he was a forester. He would applaud the role that this important forest has played and will continue to play.
Note: This centennial event was celebrated 100 years to the day Fred W.
Besley filed the Garrett land gift in the Garrett County Court House.
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