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When Gifford Pinchot returned to the United States in the late 1890s after studying forestry abroad, he remarked that “not a single acre of government, state or private timberland was under systematic forest management anywhere on the most richly timbered of all continents.
When the Gay Nineties began, the common word for our forests was ‘inexhaustible.’ To waste timber was a virtue and not a crime. There would always be plenty of timber...[the talk] about forest protection was no more to the average American than the buzzing of a mosquito, and just about as irritating.”
Pinchot’s words echoed a growing national concern about the abuse and exploitation of forest resources, and their protection and management became a politically popular issue. Regarded as the “Father of American Forestry,” and one of President Theodore Roosevelt’s chief advisors, Pinchot promoted the concept of conservation – the wise use and sustained yield of forests. He called the ecological theory “the application of common sense to the common problem for the common good.”
The Forest Reserve Act of 1891 created forest reserves from public domain lands and placed them under the management of the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Geological Survey. In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt transferred the responsibility to the Department of Agriculture and created a new bureau known as the Forest Service. Under Pinchot’s guidance, the newly formed Forest Service took a more active role in the “wise use” of forest resources.
Consequently, 60 reserves covering 56 million acres came under the Forest Service administration. Five years later, 150 national forests enveloped 172 million acres within its protective hands. Among these new reserves was the Eldorado National Forest.
Throughout the agency’s early history, the Forest Service’s primary activities, in addition to conservation and protection, included developing trails, ranger stations, and a pool of expert natural recourse managers. It wasn’t until the late teens and early 1920s that the Eldorado National Forest, in conjunction with State, began to improve the road system. Workers along the Lincoln Highway (now Highway 50) and the Alpine Road (today’s Highway 88) paved the way for automobile tourists whom soon discovered a formerly “inaccessible” national treasure.
These road improvements led to the construction of several resorts, including Kit Carson Lodge at Caples Lake. The Term Permit Act of 1915 allowed for the development of tracts within the Eldorado National Forest, and consequently, the building of summer homes along Silver Lake and other scenic mountain locations. The Forest Service also began to more actively manage its resources by constructing campgrounds and building trails to access places like Echo and Medley Lakes. In addition, the designation of the Desolation Wilderness Area in the 1930s allowed hikers a more “primitive” opportunity to enjoy the pleasures of outdoor recreation.
For more about the upcoming celebration and the organization’s numerous services, projects and activities, call 530-622-5061 or visit fs.fed.us/r5/eldorado.
The above photo is of Silver Creek in the Eldorado National Forest, in the Ice House/ Wrights Lake Recreation Area.
Silver Creek connects Wrights Lake to the South Fork American River and offers many spots for beautiful vistas and a wonderful wilderness experience. You can get more information about the area from the link above.