Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Forest Festival Celebrates Ranger School’s Centennial

The general public is invited to attend this weekend’s “Forest Festival” at the Ranger School in Wanakena, NY. The first-ever forestry festival, in 1908, celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Biltmore Forest School in western North Carolina. That school was the first of its kind and, in fact, the first forestry school of any kind in the United States.

Biltmore was a technical school that conveyed lessons in ‘practical forestry.’ Students endured an intense schedule but benefited from first-hand, field-oriented learning opportunities. Empolyers were eager to hire the job-ready Biltmore School graduates. Various factors lead to the closure of Biltmore in 1913, but the need for professional and para-professional foresters was growing. As such, technical forestry schools and colleges were readily being established around the country.

In 1911, the “College of Forestry at Syracuse University” was established, eventually becoming known as “SUNY-ESF.”  Almost from the beginning, the College sought to establish a “Ranger School” that would train men in the practical aspects of forestry, to fill the gap between the average woodsman and the professional forester.  The vision became a reality in August of 1912 when the Rich Lumber Company of Wanakena donated 1,800 acres of deforested land to the nascent foresty college for the purpose of establishing a “ranger station.”  The rest of it–10o years to be exact–is history, as they say.  The first students arrived in Wanakena in the fall of 1912 and graduated in 1913.  The Ranger School–which to date has graduated over 4,000 men and women and offers not one but three curriculula leading to A.A.S. degrees–remains a one year program for sophomore-level, college students.  Upon graduation, students find seasonal and/or permanent jobs in forestry, surveying, or natural resources conservation, and/or continue their education in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree.

The faculty, staff and students at the Ranger School have planned several events and activities to both commemorate and celebrate the institution’s landmark centennial year.  The biggest of those events is the upcoming Forest Festival, which aims to celebrate not only the Ranger School’s remarkable first century, but  forests, forestry and forestry education in general. The family-friendly Forest Festival takes place this Friday and Saturday, September 28 and 29, 2012.  On Friday, 7:30 p.m. in the main classroom, visiting Bavarian park rangers will give a presentation on national park management in Bavaria, Germany. Also, several historical exhibits will be on display that evening, courtesy of the Wanakena Historical Association, as well as the new centennial mural and a stunning photodocumentary by Wanankena resident, Kristen Rehder.

On Saturday, there will be something for everyone: 5k fun run/walk, forestry exhibits, forest tours and demonstrations, storytelling, artisan vendors, visits by Smokey Bear and ESF’s mascott Oakie,  arts and craft projects for kids, and food for sale.  Live music will be provided through the day by singer-songwriter Roy Hurd, and the 4-piece Blind Owl Band.

Celebrating the first ten years of the Biltmore Forest School in 1908 was surely a worthy effort and an exciting time.  Forests were important to Society then, and the new science of forestry was in need of testing, promotion and skillful application by knowledeable professionals.  In 2012, our forests are important to us in ways we could not have imagined a century ago, and the need for practically-skilled, creatively-resourceful professionals to sustainably manage our forests for all that Society demands from them is even greater.  Please join us in our celebration of forests, the people that manage them, and the contributions that the Ranger School has made to both.

The Forest Festival is free and open to the public.  It runs from 6-9 p.m. on September 28, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on September 29 at the Ranger School, 257 Ranger School Rd., Wanakena, NY.  For more details, visit

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Jamie Savage has been a Professor at the SUNY-ESF Ranger School in Wanakena, NY since 1991, and a Certified Forester since 1995. He teaches courses in Natural Resources Measurements, Entomology, Forest Recreation, Interpretive Techniques, Trigonometry, and Adirondack Cultural Ecology.

He is a past Chair and still active member of the New York Society of American Foresters, and currently serves as Chair of the Five Ponds Partners. He also serves as a board member for the Adirondack Curriculum Project. In his spare time, he is an ambitious hiker, mountain climber, skiier, paddler and singer-songwriter.

Savage writes about Adirondack forestry issues, Adirondack music, and other happenings in the northwest region of the Park. He lives with his two sons in Piercefield, NY.

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