Magazine article American Forests

Leo's Legacy

Magazine article American Forests

Leo's Legacy

Article excerpt

The sign on the door says "Pioneer Forest," but the door is on the ninth floor of a building in the urban wilds of downtown St. Louis. Leo Drey, the craggy-faced proprietor of Pioneer Forest and the largest private landowner in Missouri, sits at his desk and tries not to look like the millionaire that he is. He succeeds.

Leo Drey (pronounced Dry) may be the only millionaire in America who answers his own phone, albeit gruffly, types his own letters on a manual typewriter, and rides the bus to work.

What Drey likes to lavish his money on is open, uncluttered, and soul-satisfying land. He has acquired and preserved 160,000 acres of woodland in the Missouri Ozarks, plus another 3,300 acres that he leases for $1 a year to the State of Missouri as nine park sites and natural areas.

Drey manages his land conservatively, with an emphasis on preservation and low-density recreation as well as "selective" logging; he forbids clearcutting on his Pioneer Forest.

"I feel a sense of obligation to future generations to leave the land in better shape than I found it," he says. "I have a quote at home that says, This is my garden, the landowner said, and his gardener smiled.' "

The purchase that made Drey the state's largest individual landholder came in 1954. "I was out with a fire crew on state land one night, building fire lines, and the guy next to me asked if I knew that National Distillers was changing its cutting policy."

The liquor firm had previously managed its 89,900acre Ozark tract carefully, cutting selected stands of white oak for barrel staves. …

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