Pisgah National Forest: A History – a book review

PNF BOOKcoverADid you know that the US Forest Service tried to introduce bison in Pisgah National Forest? In 1917, six buffalos from a herd in New Hampshire were taken by rail to Pisgah at Elk Pasture. The superintendent then wrote:

It is the purpose of the Government to protect the game on the preserve in order that here it may have a refuge and breeding ground from which to replenish the adjacent mountain regions. It is expected also to establish elk and buffalo on the game preserve in fenced enclosures announced Verne Rhoades, the first Forest Supervisor in Pisgah.

This is only one of the fascinating pieces of history that I learned after reading Pisgah National Forest: A History by Marci Spencer, just published by The History Press. Spencer starts her book before George Vanderbilt came to Asheville to build Biltmore Estate. Vanderbilt bought land from several locals, including Thomas Clingman, of Clingmans Dome fame.

From this beginning, the book elaborates on first forester Gifford Pinchot and, my favorite character, Dr. Carl A. Schenck who came from Germany to manage Vanderbilt’s forests. Schenck later started America’s first school of forestry.

No discussion of Vanderbilt’s influence is complete without talking about Bucksprings Lodge, his hunting lodge just below Mt. Pisgah. Spencer enlisted Walt Weber, an expert on Bucksprings Lodge and an active member of Carolina Mountain Club, to give her an in-depth tour of the lodge site.

But enough of the Pisgah district. Spencer writes with the same authority about the Appalachian District –Max Patch and Roan Mountains — and Grandfather District — Linville Gorge and Wilson Creek. The author walks through the human, political and natural history of Pisgah National Forest. She enlisted the help of dozens of expert historians and naturalists to make sure that her story is based on solid research.

If I have one quibble about the book, it’s that it only mentions the Mountains-to-Sea Across North Carolina twice just in passing. With over 250 miles of the MST through Pisgah, the trail might have gotten a bigger billing.

The History Press puts out beautifully illustrated books. The center of the Pisgah book displays 16 pages of color inserts. Many historic black and white pictures pepper the text. The bibliography and index are impeccable, another indication of a quality piece of work.

After retiring as a nurse practitioner, Marci earned her certificate as a North Carolina environmental educator and a Blue Ridge naturalist. She is the author of Clingmans Dome: Highest Mountain in the Great Smokies, and a soon-to-be released children’s book based on a true story, called Potluck Message Delivered: The Great Smoky Mountains are Saved! Marcia Spencer is a volunteer for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at Clingmans Dome.

PS – What happened to those buffaloes? The experiment failed and the buffalo didn’t survive.

Book Launch
Marci Spencer will launch her book on Sunday November 16 at 3 pm at the historic Buckspring Cabin at The Ramble Biltmore Forest. The Main Entrance is on US-25/Hendersonville Road, Asheville, NC 28803 139 Valley Spring Road.

A book signing will follow the author’s discussion. George Cecil, the last George Vanderbilt descendant to own Buckspring Cabin, will speak on his grandfather’s Buckspring Lodge in Pisgah Forest and his own personal memories there.

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