The Cradle of Forestry in America heritage site is one of the must-see attractions to experience while visiting Transylvania County and Pisgah National Forest. This 6,500-acre tract, the historic core of the national forest, was once part of George W. Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate.
The Cradle, located four miles south of the Blue Ridge Parkway off U.S. 276, offers trails, exhibits and special events designed to illustrate the relationship between people and forests, the story of American forestry’s roots, and to encourage visitors of all ages to enjoy the Pisgah National Forest.
The 20,000-square-foot Forest Discovery Center, which includes several hands-on exhibits, a gift shop and café, is at the heart of the site. Every autumn events and education programs are offered at the Center. Scavenger hunts and fact safaris invite indoor and outdoor exploration.
This autumn’s events include the following: Bring Back the Monarchs on Sept. 17, Afternoon Tea with Llamas on Sept. 23, National Public Lands Day on Sept. 30, Forest Festival Day and Intercollegiate Woodmen’s Meet on Oct. 7, Camping in the Old Style on Oct. 14, and the Legend of Tommy Hodges Outdoor Drama on Oct. 20 and 21.
In the Forest Discovery Center, the film “First in Forestry: Carl Alwin Schenck and the Biltmore Forest School” is shown daily on the hour and half hour. A terrarium depicts a forest wetland with live amphibians. “Changing Climate, Changing Forests” interprets scientists’ efforts to understand a changing climate’s effects on forests and everyday actions people can take to make a difference. Visitors can experience a firefighting helicopter “ride” and pick up “Scientist Cards” and other information related to forest research.
Outside, visitors to the Cradle are encouraged to enjoy three paved forest trails, which are perfect for wheelchairs and strollers. Guided tours are sometimes available. Signage along the Biltmore Campus Trail and Forest Festival Trail interprets stops along the way. Along the 1-mile Biltmore Campus Trail, visitors will find a one room school house, 1882 cabin, commissary, blacksmith shop and unique Black Forest Lodge. Imagine living in this remote mountain community over a century ago during the days of the Biltmore Forest School. Occasionally living history interpreters bring the past to life in the historic buildings.
The 1.3-mile Forest Festival Trail features a 1914 Climax logging locomotive, an old sawmill, tree regeneration plots and forest scenery. The Adventure Zone along the Forest Festival Trail, designed for those on the autism spectrum, is engaging for all youth. Pick up an Adventure Pack from the front desk and enjoy exploring the forest.
The 1.3-mile paved Forest Discovery Trail, which intersects the Forest Festival Trail, is moderately difficult, yet accessible. It provides an excellent opportunity to enjoy the sights and sounds of the forest.
The Cradle of Forestry in America heritage site signifies the shift in America from the attitude that our natural resources were limitless to the importance of sustaining them for future generations.
The Cradle’s beginnings date from 1891. George W. Vanderbilt, the owner of 125,000 acres of North Carolina forest land, became interested in scientific forest management. Vanderbilt hired two European-trained foresters to manage the land, first Gifford Pinchot, succeeded by German forester Dr. Carl Alwin Schenck in 1895. Schenck spent 14 years applying conservation methods to what is now Pisgah National Forest and founded the first forestry school in America at the Cradle site.
Pinchot became the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service in 1905. The Cradle’s land was set aside by Congress in 1968 to commemorate the beginning of forest conservation and education in the United States.
Today, the Cradle attracts more than 40,000 visitors annually. The Cradle is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Nov. 5. To make reservations for guided programs or more information, call (828) 877-3130 or go to www.cradleofforestry.com.