Berea College of Forestry continues to grow

Taylor Six/The Register

Berea forester, Clint Patterson sits on the steps of the restored Silas Mason house outside of the Berea College Forestry Outreach center. The home was owned by Silas Mason, who came to Berea in 1895 and began the first forestry classes at Berea College in 1897. The house now serves as the forestry department's office space. 



When Clint Patterson began as a Berea College Forester in 2011, it was only him and assistant forester Glen Dandeneau and they were using a utility room in the college’s agricultural building as their office. The Berea College Forestry Outreach Center was non-existent and the Silas Mason house, home of the college’s first forester, was in disrepair.

Now, the forestry department, which manages harvesting, species control, research and trail maintenance of the Berea forests, has a new outreach center and offices located in the restored Mason home for the five foresters.

“Now we have a real department,” Patterson said.

The Berea College forests that now total 9,000 acres, first began in 1897, when Silas Mason bought the first 200 of those acres to start teaching forestry classes focusing on multiple use management of the forest’s water, education, recreation and timber.

Mason taught three forestry classes in 1898, the first year that Carl Schneck started the forest school at Biltmore College, which is credited as the the first forestry school earning it the title “the cradle of forestry.”

“I think that what (Mason) was doing was better because he was doing multiple use management, not just timber management,” Patterson said. “Here we were already concerned with education, the water and recreation which is much more holistic view, so he is credited for being a pioneer in American forestry, but he's not very well known.”

Patterson said that the lack of recognition for Mason and the college's early forestry investment is in part due to the college not having properly promoted the forest’s history as he believes they should have.

“That has been my goal here to kind of put us on the map here as a historic forest,” he said.

Patterson hopes that a big step in doing this will be during a visit from the Society of American Foresters National Convention tour group coming in November, where they will see a horse logging demonstration.

“It is a really unique opportunity to show the nation and professional foresters that come to that, to show them what they have been missing in forest history,” he said. “I hope to show number one, that this was a cradle of forestry here, historically, and were continuing to do a lot of innovative forestry management even now. I want to showcase our history and current operations so that we continue to be a leader in forestry.”

Some of those operations include several initiatives that include Restorative Forestry through the use of Horse Logging, American Chestnut Restoration, and Shortleaf Pine Restoration, to name a few.

The horse logging operation, which uses animal power in the process for cutting timber, was introduced in an effort to have the lowest impact on the soil and water quality in the logging process.

“For a forester to select the trees that they want harvested without as much worry that the remaining trees that they leave will be damaged is the key to finding creative and innovative ways to manage as the forest dictates, not the machinery,” Patterson said.

He feels that this initiative has the potential to be the biggest thing for the forestry department if they are successful in showing that it is economically feasible as well as environmentally ideal.

“The college has a long history of promoting Appalachian heritage and skills,” he said. “The horse logging is a really visible example of that and that it is still feasible today.”

In addition to the horse logging, the center and forestry department are working to restore the Berea forests populations of the American Chestnut and Shortleaf Pine trees through prescribed burning.

Prescribed burning is setting intentional, monitored fires to the landscape to manage the forests’ species composition.

Patterson explained that in the woods now, there is more underbrush with shade tolerant species like Maple and Beech trees, which historically would be burnt out because their ability to kill other species while in early stages.

At one point, Maple and Beech trees become so dense that they shade out other species like Pine and Oak trees from reproducing, which the the foresters hope to reverse.

“Even though fire was human caused event, the prescribed burning method was so common for thousands of years that the ecosystem became adapted to it, and in its absence of the last 50 or 60 years, the woods have been changing in species composition in ways that we want to reverse so we are able to reestablish Oak and Pine through the use of fire,” he said.

After the foresters’ convention visit in November, the outreach center and forestry department, in junction with the city of Berea, hope to hold a forestry festival, to promote forestry to the community.

“The forest is a community asset that is enjoyed and celebrated by the community, so I thought that since the Berea College of Forestry is so close to town and it’s such a part of the history of the town and the college, and because were also a cradle of forestry of sorts, that it would be the perfect festival for us to have,” Patterson said.

After holding the Biological Woodsman event last year, which greeted 300 people to see horse logging demonstrations, Patterson knew that the idea of a forestry festival would go over well.

He hopes that it can be a joint event with the college and city, including the crafts community to feature arts, music and food.

In regards to the new outreach center, Patterson said that with the success of the forestry’s efforts, he is becoming more of a spokesperson and that having the center, and director Wendy Warren, is critical for continued success.

“It is really important to have Wendy and this outreach center so that the story of what we are doing on the forests, and what the forestry department is doing and hopes to do can be told,” he said.

According to Warren, since the center’s opening in January 2018 to 2019, they have seen more than 10,000 visitors from across 45 states and 13 countries.

“I like to say we work with kids of all ages, helping them come to learn about, love and become caretakers of the lands and waters that sustain us,” Warren said. “This leads us to all kinds of programming and educational opportunities.”

“We have a facility where people can come where they can learn about the forests and get engaged in educational programs, it completes the vision,” Patterson said of the center. “The center also helps to make the forest and asset to the community that it used to be and always should have been. It puts us on a trajectory to create a culture of community forestry.”

Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter at @TaylorSixRR.

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