Women of the Woods: How the Daughters of the American Revolution Found a Forgotten Forest

January 13, 2017

On October 14, 2016, the clouds parted to cast a few glimmers of sunlight on a special ceremony taking place on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Honoring nearly 100 years of conservation, members of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) gathered together to commemorate a forest once forgotten to the light of knowledge. The forest of 50,000 red spruce was planted in 1941-1943 by the Civilian Conservation Corps and dedicated to the deceased Daughters of the American Revolution, but its location and existence was almost completely forgotten. As if illuminated by a divine mirror to commemorate the moment the forest was remembered, the sun shone down through the clouds on the unveiling of the memorial wayside sign honoring the rediscovery of the DAR Jubilee Memorial Forest.

The story of the forgotten forest begins in 1913 with Margaret March-Mount, an employee of the US Forest Service in Michigan, who became known as the “Ambassador of Trees” for her leadership in conservation. According to U.S. Forest Service history, in an interview with the Washington Post, Miss March-Mount commented in 1942, “We spend millions for bombs. Let us encourage our children to invest pennies for pines. Bombs explode, pines grow.” Envisioning a nation of healthy trees, she founded a children’s program called the Children’s Conservation Crusade which encouraged children to give “Pennies for Pines.” As the name suggests, pine trees were sold to organizations who pledged a penny per seedling. The American people embraced the conservation program and millions of seedlings were planted as a result of her dedication.

With conservation as part of its core mission, the DAR’s involvement began in 1939 with U.S. DAR President General Mrs. Henry M. Robert. Seeing the popularity of the Penny Pine program and also holding conservation close to her heart, Mrs. Robert led the nation’s Daughters in celebrating DAR’s 50th Golden Jubilee anniversary by participating in the Penny Pine program. Mrs. Robert charged every state DAR chapter to pledge one acre of pine seedlings. The National Society of DAR planted over 5 million seedlings. The North Carolina DAR pledged 200,000 pine seedlings to be planted on public land and also pledged to plant 50,000 red spruce seedlings in Pisgah National Forest near the planned route for the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Like the trees themselves, a few seeds needed to be planted before the forest could be remembered. In preparation for National DAR’s 100th Anniversary in 2009, Conservation Committee Chairwoman Liz Hotchkiss encouraged the state chapters to research conservation projects that had been done in the last century to be celebrated at 100th DAR Jubilee. Mrs. Etta Reid of the Guilford-Battle DAR Chapter in Greensboro found a map in old DAR scrapbooks with a purple mark denoting the location of the spruce forest. From the map, they knew it was planted somewhere in NC near Devil’s Courthouse along the Parkway, but that was all they knew.

To enlist the help of a nearby DAR chapter, NC Conservation Committee Chair Robin Masters-Meyer enlisted the help of Cricket Crigler of the nearby Joseph-McDowell DAR Chapter in Hendersonville. Cricket met Ted Oprean, a forest historian at the Pisgah National Forest Ranger Station. Deep in the National Forest’s CCC files, Ted pulled out a hand-drawn map by Mr. S.F. Clark, a forest ranger in Pisgah National Forest in the early 40’s. With map in hand, Cricket and her husband, Norris, traveled up to Devil’s Courthouse searching for the forgotten forest but were unsuccessful in locating the stand of trees.

Then in 2015, Brevard resident Molly Tartt of the Waightsville-Avery DAR chapter got involved, determined to solve the mystery. Molly brought together a merry band of hikers and their dogs into the woods to search for the forest following only the direction from the map and the invitation from the original dedication ceremony reading: “The trees were planted at a high elevation in an undisclosed location.” Molly remembers, “I was told to go to the top of the Devil’s Courthouse Overlook and look backwards; all I saw was millions of trees. I had no idea what I was looking for, but I was determined. I knew this was going to come to fruition.”

With the help of the Forest Service, National Parks Service and the Southern Research Station, Molly and her team began to hone in on one location in particular. In order to prove this was indeed the location of the forest, Brevard High Senior John Breese Huggins and Mike Thompson, a forestry teacher from Troy, North Carolina, measured the trees’ circumference, height, and collected increment borings of the trunks within the spruce forest.  Data analysis and the Forest Service confirmed it; the location of the Forgotten Forest was finally discovered.

After nearly 75 years and countless hours of research and planning, 81 DAR members from across the nation, plus over 100 special guests gathered on the Parkway for the 30-minute dedication ceremony on October 14th, 2016. Molly recalls of the blustery and chilly morning, “just before the wayside marker was to be unveiled, the wind carried it off for us. It’s almost as if we were reminded that man plans and God laughs,” said Elizabeth Graham, State DAR Regent in attendance at the ceremony.

Thankfully, Molly along with her colleagues didn’t give up along their journey. “Were there times when I got discouraged? Absolutely,” said Tartt. “The timing especially. I wanted it done and it was just a process. But I knew it was going to come together, and I wanted it to come together quickly. It took almost two years from getting the map to finding the forest, to getting the sign created to coordinating the dedication, I would say it was the most intense and difficult job I have ever done.”

Visitors may access the forest at Devil’s Courthouse and mile marker 422.4 on the north side. According to forest historian Dr. James Lewis, the Jubilee Forest, “can be accessed on foot by following the trail from the Devil’s Courthouse parking lot, turning left at the end of the asphalt walkway onto the dirt trail, and going back over the Blue Ridge Parkway toward the Mountains to Sea Trail and turning left at that junction. After a few minutes’ walk, you’ll enter a spruce forest. With row after row of red spruce trees clearly visible, the handiwork of the Civilian Conservation Corps and the diligence of the Daughters of the American Revolution still continues to survive.

According to Molly, “After 74 years of spruce needles falling from the trees, the forest floor has a lovely rose-colored tint. Trees are now 100 feet tall and the canopy is almost completely filled in. The forest is very dark, peaceful and quiet.”

Like these dedicated Women of the Woods, Southern Highlands Reserve is honored to now carry the torch of conservation in its efforts to restore thousands of red spruce on public land as a charter member of the Southern Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative. Read more about Southern Highlands Reserve’s efforts to restore red spruce in the Southern Appalachian Mountains on our projects and research page.