Magazine article American Forests

The Solace at Solins'

Magazine article American Forests

The Solace at Solins'

Article excerpt

By practicing an inherited ethic and careful stewardship, these Wisconsin brothers hope to pass along "eternity" with the family business.

photos by Eileen R. Herrling.

I see my dad in these hills, the trees we planted together, the old stumps of trees he cut when I was a kid," says Don Solin of the tree farm near Antigo, Wisconsin, where he grew up. The rolling hills of northern Wisconsin's glacial kettle moraine are densely forested with hardwoods, birch and aspen and pitted with potholes and lakes.

It was to this lush green landscape that Don and Dave Solin's grandparents emigrated from Czechoslovakia at the turn of the century and established a homestead that was to remain in the family for generations. Solin Hills Tree Farm was founded on the premise that forest stewardship cannot merely be employed now; it must be taught and inherited by the generation that follows. Don and his brother Dave share ownership of Solin Hills, and they've managed the property since the 1970s guided by a land ethic learned from their father, Joseph.

Their mother, 86-year-old Hattie, remembers moving to the farm from Chicago with her husband in 1941 when his father was killed in a farm accident. "I was a city slicker, and getting used to pumping water and using an outhouse was pretty hard," she remembers. They began with 40 acres, and Joe harvested pulp and cut firewood to pay for the farm.

Hattie and their seven children worked in the woods peeling pulp and planting trees. "Joe used to make the holes, and I'd put the tree in and step on it," she recalls. Even back then, local foresters advised the couple on which species to replant.

Pulpwood began providing revenue for the Solin family as early as 1942, and Joseph Solin supplemented their income with trapping. Don remembers his father buying a brand new Farmall H tractor-considered top of the line-with money earned during the years when beaver pelts sometimes brought $70 each. In 1967 the premiere episode of Marita Perkins' popular TV series, Wild Kingdom, was filmed on the Solin Tree Farm. If we take care of the land through sound forestry and conservation practices, the land will take care of us was Joseph Solin's land ethic, and it remains the guiding force for managing the woodland.

"All the knowledge my dad passed on to us makes this tree farm what it is today," says Don.

Lumber from trees harvested to clear the land built the original farm structures, and the first forestry management plan for the property was developed in 1967. Solin Brothers Forest Products was formed in 1979 with Dave and Don as equal partners. Today Solin Hills is much more than a woodlot, and the brothers have increased their property to more than 1,200 acres. They have diversified into everything from Christmas trees, balsam wreaths and maple syrup to cabin rentals, fishing and hunting excursions, birdseye and curly maple lumber products, and veneer for Popsicle sticks.

When she was just 11, Don and Kathy's daughter Stacy told tour groups that one cord of birch, an odorless and tasteless species, would make 250,000 Popsicle sticks. One year three of the Solin children dressed for Halloween as a birch tree, a logger, and a Popsicle. White birch bolts from Solin Hills also produce toothpicks, tongue depressors, and other medical supplies.

Severe drought threatened the Solins' birch resource back in the late 1980s, so Dave and Don tried a new technique to regenerate birch. With the help of Don's father-in-law, they built a scarifier-a device that will disk, turn, or till the soil to prepare it for receiving seeds-to pull behind their pole skidder after harvesting a birch plot. A pole skidder, similar to a tractor, is used to get logs or pulpwood out to a roadside.

"The scarification needs to be done in late August or early September to maximize seed germination and growth potential," says Don. "Strip clearcuts of at least 40-foot widths, preferably going north and south, seem to do best, and you need to leave a fair amount of birch trees for seed reproduction between these strips. …

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