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Forest rangers at the ready

May 02, 1999

Kris FeldmeyerBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer




SOUTH MOUNTAIN, Pa. - When Kris Feldmeyer spots a puff of smoke from his perch 80 feet above the forest floor in the fire tower at Snowy Mountain, he lines up the smoke in the alidade sighting device and pinpoints its exact location.

"Sometimes it's just an individual or a farmer burning a pile of brush, but if the smoke starts to get bigger and bigger, then you know you have something going out there," said Feldmeyer, 39, one of four foresters patrolling the vast, 86,000-acre Michaux State Forest.

Feldmeyer and his colleagues are considered part-time in that they work 40 hours a week for about 10 months a year. They get laid off in the winter.

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The forest, which touches Franklin, Adams and Cumberland counties, has slots for five seasonal foresters. There is one vacancy, said Feldmeyer, the senior forester on the staff. Because it's seasonal work with no health benefits, turnover is high, he said.

Feldmeyer said he has issued more than 200 citations for a variety of charges - littering, illegal camping, cutting or damaging live trees, illegal dumping and use of all-terrain vehicles, mountain bikes and sport utility vehicles in unauthorized areas.

"I know foresters in other districts who have never written a citation," he said.

The chief duty of Pennsylvania's foresters is not enforcement, but education and public relations, Feldmeyer said.

"Basically we're just supposed to be a presence in the forest on weekends, but we're doing more and more law enforcement here," he said.

Littering and illegal dumping are the most chronic problems at Michaux State Forest, and the problems seem worse there than in any of the state's 19 other forest districts, Feldmeyer said.

Area groups volunteer to help to clean the forest's 130 miles of dirt roads, a practice encouraged by state officials.

Inside the forest, which is named for Andre Michaux, a French botanist who gave money to Pennsylvania for green space in the late 19th century, are three parks, eight reservoirs and a series of watersheds.

It is the site of controlled timbering operations and is a mecca for hunters, anglers, family outings, campers and hikers. The Appalachian Trail winds for 36 miles through the forest.

The state bought the land for the forest in 1932.

Feldmeyer said Michaux is one of the most visited state forests in Pennsylvania.

Atop the tower, Feldmeyer's uninterrupted view of the Appalachian ridges gives him a 30-mile vista across the Cumberland Valley on a good, clear day. He can swing the alidade's pointer across the compass to track a fire and estimate its distance on the topographical map that makes up its base.

There are two fire towers in Michaux. One on Big Flat to the north is the older. The one on Snowy Mountain that Feldmeyer was manning last week was built in the 1970s. Its predecessor was knocked down by vandals, he said.

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