The Cradle of Forestry in America 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, 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 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. Each summer several programs and guided trail tours are offered at the center. Scavenger hunts and fact safaris invite indoor and outdoor exploration.
This summer’s events include Bug Day on June 24, the Songcatchers Music Series featuring concerts each Sunday afternoon in July, Winged Creatures of the Night on July 8, Train History Day on July 22, Smokey Bear’s 73rd Birthday Party on Aug. 5, and a celebration of wood, May the Forest Be with You, on Aug. 12. Woodsy Owl’s Curiosity Club, a nature based program for children ages 4-7, is offered on Thursdays, from June 15 – Aug. 3.
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. Pick up the Cradle’s interpretive trail booklet that brings to life what you see along the trails and join a guided tour when available.
New this summer, the Cradle is a Mission Site for a mobile game app, Discovery Agents. With the help of a furry guide, children can explore the Forest Festival Trail through a virtual world and test their knowledge about nature. The 1.3-mile paved Forest Discovery Trail, which intersects the Forest Festival Trail, 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.
HISTORY OF THE CRADLE
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.
The Cradle is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Nov. 5. Cradle of Forestry Admission Adults — $5; 15 and under— free; America the Beautiful passes, Every Kid in a Park passes, and Golden Age passports are honored; adult groups (10 or more) — $4. Some special events are $6 for adults, $3 for youth and passport holders. To make reservations for guided programs or more information, call (828) 877-3130 or go to www.cradleofforestry.com.