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Mont Alto forestry school sent seedings to France in 1919

December 02, 2000

Mont Alto forestry school sent seedings to France in 1919



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer


MONT ALTO, Pa. - In 1919, students at what then was the Pennsylvania State Forestry School in Mont Alto bundled up 1 million pine seedlings - about two tractor-trailer trucks full - and shipped them to France.

World War I had just ended and many of France's forests were devastated by the fighting. Many Mont Alto forestry school students served in American Army forestry regiments. Their job was to log French forests.

The wood they produced was used to shore up trenches, make railroad ties, dock and bridge supports, barracks, hospitals, ice houses, mess halls and other buildings used by the Allied armies.

According to a history of the forestry school written by Elizabeth Thomas, all but four of the school's 28 students enlisted in the Army when the United States declared war on Germany in 1917.

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The seedlings the students sent to France in 1919 were to help reforest the woodlands that were either cut down or destroyed in the fighting.

Today, 81 years later, the school wants to know what happened to those seedlings, if they ever made it to France and if they did where they were planted.

"If they made it and were planted they would be a forest now," said Craig Houghton, director of the forestry department at Penn State Mont Alto. "It would be interesting if we could find out."

Margaret Taylor, director of the school's office of university relations, started the inquiry when she learned of the seedlings.

"I was a new employee trying to learn all about the campus when I came across this paragraph that talked about the seedlings," she said.

The brief passage was the only reference, but it piqued Taylor's curiosity and that of David Goldenberg, chief executive officer of the campus.

"Many of the academy's students and faculty served in World War I and they saw the devastation to the French countryside firsthand," Goldenberg said in a press release.

The students decided to send the 1 million seedlings to France from the academy's nursery, which produced up to 3 million trees a year.

Taylor called U.S. Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Pa., who is arranging a meeting between school officials and the French Embassy. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's office in Paris is also being asked to help, Taylor said.

She has contacted cable television's History Channel to see if it is interested in doing a piece on the seedlings in its "History's Mysteries" segment. The school also hopes to get the French press interested in the story, Taylor said.

"I'm trying to talk to everyone I can," she said.

Last week, the mother of a Mont Alto faculty member who lives in France visited her son on the campus and Taylor spoke with her. Some had the opinion that the trees, if they were planted, were destroyed during World War II which was fought over much of the same turf as the fighting in World War I.

"She said the forest devastation had been much greater in World War I so they may have survived," Taylor said.

Goldenberg said if the trees are found, the school will ask the French government to recognize the efforts of the Mont Alto students 81 years ago with a plaque, marker or a decree. He spoke of a possible trip to France if the trees are found.

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