National Forest Foundation

Celebrating History Renews Conservation Passion Today at Grey Towers

The National Forest System, History and Culture


NFF Executive Vice President Ray Foote joined U.S. Forest Service Leadership at Grey Towers to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of President John. F. Kennedy's visit to Gifford Pinchot's historic home.

A remembrance of JFK’s historic visit. A turreted mansion overlooking the Delaware River valley. Panels, lectures, displays, and book-signings. Bands, families, and hundreds of people interested in the rich history and incredible promise of our National Forests.

I spent the last three days in Milford, Pennsylvania at Grey Towers, the home of Gifford Pinchot where events commemorated the 50th anniversary (almost to the exact date!) of a visit by President Kennedy to launch his “conservation tour” across America. On that day in 1963, JFK accepted this home as a gift from the Pinchot family, and he launched the Pinchot Institute, the co-sponsors of this past weekend’s activities. That historical moment framed this past weekend and offered a great opportunity to envision the future of our National Forests.

You may vaguely recall the Pinchot name: Gifford was the first Chief of the Forest Service and – with the urging of President Teddy Roosevelt – essentially created the Department, a profession, and a whole new conservation ethos. Pinchot gave voice to then-radical ideas of sustainability, forest conservation, a vast system of public lands, and more; he is up in that pantheon of people like John Muir and Aldo Leopold.

It was very inspiring to talk with people from across the country who are working on forest conservation issues daily; to see first-hand the specific place where Gifford Pinchot molded his conservation ideas; to hear from people like USFS Chief Tom Tidwell or Undersecretary Robert Bonnie on a national recommitment to the forests. I visited with Peter Pinchot, Gifford’s grandson, who is carrying on his legacy as is Peter’s daughter Leila.

Our nation has changed dramatically since the days when a dynamic friendship between a President and a scion of a prominent family could catalyze an entirely new approach to public land. But, their example of individual action and engagement is relevant for today. Communities, large and small, and individual citizens who get directly involved in protecting and restoring our forests are making a huge difference. They may not hail from a grand mansion or dine with Presidents, but they do comprise the real strength of conservation in America today.

Maybe that was my real take-away from an amazing weekend. I left Milford late Saturday energized and renewed that our National Forests, though enormously challenged, will ultimately be a huge success story if we are committed to fostering their resiliency.

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