A must-see while visiting Transylvania County is the Cradle of Forestry in America Heritage Site in 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 people of 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.
In the Forest Discovery Center, the film “First in Forestry: Carl Alwin Schenck and the Biltmore Forest School” is shown daily on the 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 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
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.
Forest Festival Day
One of the most popular annual events at the Cradle of Forestry is the Forest Festival Day, which includes a lumberjack competition. This year’s Forest Festival Day will be held on Saturday, Oct. 6, and includes traditional craftsmen, exhibitors, forestry students and entertainers. The John G. Palmer Intercollegiate Woodsmen’s Meet is held in the Pink Beds picnic area and
features colleges competing in crosscut sawing, archery, axe throwing, pole climbing and more. Cradle-Camping in the Old Style At the Cradle of Forestry on Oct. 13, the Acorn Patrol will recreate a campsite of the early 1900s. The Acorn Patrol will show how to make fire using flint, steel and friction, along with old-style campfire cookery. On display will be four different styles of period canvas shelters and traditional camp tools. Each camper also has expertise in various aspects of woodcraft, history and nature study. For more information, call (828) 877-3130 or go to www.cradleofforestry.com.
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 Servic
e 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.