The mountains of Western North Carolina are home to a school almost everyone will enjoy attending, if only for a few hours. In 1968, Congress set aside 6,540 acres of Pisgah National Forest to preserve the birthplace of forestry and forestry education in America.
From Charlotte, the Cradle is approximately 140 miles, about a 3-hour drive, one-way.
To see and do
The Cradle of Forestry in America, a U.S. Forest Service site, has two interpretive trails - both paved and handicapped-accessible - and educational exhibits within the impressive Discovery Center building.
In 1892, George Vanderbilt hired Gifford Pinchot to be a forester on the Biltmore estate. Pinchot, trained in France, brought a scientific approach to forest management, and in 1898, President McKinley appointed Pinchot the first chief of what would eventually become the U.S. Forest Service.
The first school of forestry in the United States was established in 1898 by Carl Alwin Schenck and called the Biltmore Forest School. Several rough-hewn buildings comprised its campus, many of which are seen today along the Biltmore Campus Trail.
Among them are the single-room schoolhouse, the commissary, blacksmith shop, Schenck's office, and the students' quarters. Taped messages at each location provide information about the building and its uses. Besides storing staples, the commissary was also the community gathering place and post office.
Student quarters were a far cry from today's relatively comfortable dorm rooms, as the names students gave their lodgings - "Gnat Hollow," "Rest for the Wicked" and "Hell Hole" - would suggest.
In Schenck's office are presses used for book binding: Many of the educator's lecture notes were published in book form.
The Forest Festival Trail winds its way in the opposite direction from the Biltmore Campus Trail. Along this path you'll pass a steam-powered portable saw mill and a Climax narrow-gauge railroad engine, primarily used in logging and mining operations.
Climbing aboard the engine and ringing the bell are favorite activities for the kids. Adults may be inclined to climb as well.
The Discovery Center building holds numerous exhibits showcasing the development of forestry. Among the artifacts is a Biltmore stick, first developed at the school and used to measure the diameter and height of a tree, from which numbers a forester can determine how much lumber that tree will yield.
A fantasy film, "There's Magic at the Cradle" is shown in the auditorium. It's about a 12-year-old girl who has no interest in nature until she is magically transported into an outdoor adventure.
The Cradle of Forestry is on the 79-mile Forest Heritage National Scenic Byway, which loops through the southwestern section of Pisgah National Forest. On the stretch of U.S. 276 heading north from Brevard to the Cradle of Forestry you'll pass by Looking Glass Falls and the Sliding Rock Recreation Area (fee required).