Magazine article American Forests

The Smallest National Forest

Magazine article American Forests

The Smallest National Forest

Article excerpt

THE SMALLEST NATIONAL FOREST

Our National Forest come in many sizes. They range from the vast 17-million-acre Tongass in Alaska down to smaller tracts containing only a few thousand acres. Hidden in the central Sierra Nevada Mountains of California is our smallest National Forest. Weighing in at a mere 379 acres, the Calaveras Big Tree National Forest might be called a micro-mini-forest.

Located near Beaver Creek, a tributary of the North Fork of the Stanislaus River, the Calaveras was established to protect a magnificient stand of large, old-growth sugar pine unequaled in size and beauty. Sugar pine over eight feet in diameter and 200 feet tall are commonplace in the Calaveras National Forest, and one 40-acre section contains the heaviest volumes of sugar pine known to the U.S. Forest Service.

This rare and beautiful forest is such an outstanding scenic attraction that for years conservationists advocated its acquisition. In 1945 the Pickering Lumber Corporation, owners of the forest, began to lay plans to extend the company's logging railroad into the Beaver Creek drainage to harvest the sugar pine and other trees there. In order to save this unique forest for use by the public, the federal government acquired it from the lumber company, and the tract became known as the Calaveras Big Tree National Forest.

The Calaveras is an oddity. In addition to being the smallest in the system, it is the only National Forest within the boundaries of another National Forest. It is administered by the Calaveras Ranger District of the Stanislaus National Forest.

The Calaveras was established under legislation designed to acquire and protect the giant sequoia of the Sierra Nevada. The forest is actually named for the "bigtree" or giant sequoia, rather than for the large sugar pine.

Unlike other National Forests, this miniforest is not managed for multiple use. It is classified as a scenic area, the first such area in the Pacific Southwest Region of the Forest Service, and as such it must be maintained in an undisturbed condition.

At present the Calaveras contains no hiking trails or camping facilities, but visitors are allowed to camp at the adjacent Calaveras Big Tree State Park, where they can see giant sequoia or step next door to view the large sugar pine. As time and money become available, the Forest Service will build foot trails in the National Forest and install directional and informational signs.

This midget of our National Forest system is part of the great mixed conifer forest of the Sierra Nevada. In addition to sugar pine, other trees include ponderosa pine, white fir, and incense-cedar. Walking among these mixed conifers is not difficult, despite the lack of trails. The woods are sunny and warm and have an openness that invites visitors to meander and explore at leisure, stopping at vantage points to admire the large trees. Although small in size, the Calaveras attracts those interested in a primeval mixed conifer forest as it existed prior to the railroad logging era.

Logging in this area began during the last years of the 19th century. In 1898 - while one brand of fortune seeker prospected for gold in the Klondike - others found it in the green gold of the Sierras.

Those early entrepreneurs began cutting in the foothills to the south where they built logging railroads and sawmills. …

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