The Cradle of Forestry in America Heritage Site is one of the must-see attractions in 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, music and special events designed to illustrate the relationship between people and forests, the story of American forestry’s roots, and to invite all ages to enjoy 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. Each summer several programs and guided trail tours are offered at the Center. Scavenger hunts and Adventure Packs invite indoor and outdoor exploration.
This summer’s events include a free admission day on National Get Outdoors Day on June 9, Pink Beds BioBlitz on June 16, Bug Day on June 23, the Songcatchers Music Series featuring concerts each Sunday afternoon in July, Winged Creatures of the Night on July 7, Train History Day on July 21, Smokey Bear’s 74th Birthday Party on Aug. 4, and May the Forest Be with You on Aug. 11. Woodsy Owl’s Curiosity Club, a nature based program for children ages 4-7, is offered on Wednesdays and Thursdays, from June 13 – Aug. 2, from 10:30 a.m. to noon. The Cradle of Forestry’s Junior Forester program for children ages 8-12 is held every Wednesday, from June 13-Aug. 1, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Reservations are required for both programs as space is limited. The cost is $5 per child; accompanying adults are admitted for half-price regular admission ($3) and free for Friends of the Cradle members.
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. “Fire in the Forest” traces fire’s use as a tool from American Indians to today’s land managers. 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 the two paved interpretive trails, which are perfect for wheelchairs and strollers. Before visiting, download the new Agents of Discovery app and search for the mission, “Cradle of Forestry in America.” This virtual game, designed for 2nd-6th graders along the Forest Festival Trail, is guided by Agent Beaver who offers challenges testing their knowledge about nature throughout the hike.
Along the way, visitors will find seven historic buildings, a 1914 Climax logging locomotive, an old sawmill and interpretive signs that tell the Cradle’s stories. 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 avoid the crowds and simply enjoy the sights and sounds of the forest.
Crafters are occasionally on-hand at the Cradle’s buildings to bring some “living history” to visitors. Some of their creations are for sale in the Giving Tree Gift Shop, along with books, trail maps, clothing and forest-related items. The Café at the Cradle serves lunch daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Cradle of Forestry History
The Cradle’s beginnings date from 1891. 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.
Cradle Admission: Regular — $6; Ages 4-12 — $3; America the Beautiful passholders — $3; Every Kid in a Park passes and Friends of the Cradle members — free. Some special events range from $6-$18 for adults, $3-8 for youth. For information, call (828) 877-3130 or go to www.cradleofforestry.com.