Campus looking to exchange 200 trees with France

October 02, 2002|by RICHARD BELISLE

MONT ALTO, Pa. - Some schools exchange students. Penn State's Mont Alto Campus is exchanging trees.

More than 80 years after a gift of trees to France fell through, the campus is spearheading an effort to exchange trees with the European country.

The saga began at the end of World War I. All but four of the 28 forestry students at what was then the Pennsylvania Forestry School in Mont Alto enlisted in the Army when America joined the fight in 1917.

Many of them were assigned to Army forestry regiments which were logging the French forests.

The wood was used to shore up trenches, make railroad ties, dock and bridge supports, barracks, hospitals, ice houses and mess halls.


By the time the war ended in 1918 the French forests had been devastated by the fighting and logging.

The soldiers, who had returned to the campus by 1919, remembered the devastation. Students and faculty decided to send 1 million white pine seedlings to France to help reforest the war-torn nation.

At that time the campus maintained a huge nursery that produced up to 3 million seedlings a year. It was used to teach forestry students how to plant tracts of trees.

It took two tractor-trailer rigs to haul the seedlings to a shipping dock for their trip overseas.

That was the last anyone ever heard of the seedlings until this summer, Margaret Taylor, director of Penn State Mont Alto's Office of University Relations, said Tuesday.

It was Taylor who began to ask questions about the fate of the trees two years ago after reading about the 1919 effort.

She was starting the planning for the campus' 100th anniversary next year and wanted to include the seedling story in the school's history.

The fate of the seedlings was learned when Lee Daywalt, a Mont Alto alumnus, produced a clipping from a 1921 copy of a newspaper that said the seedlings were dead when they arrived in France because they had not been watered. They were dumped into the French harbor.

The tree exchange began when David Mackley of Waynesboro, Pa., aide to State Rep. Pat Fleagle, R-Franklin, and a member of the campus' anniversary committee, spoke to his stepbrother, Thomas Rottcher of Waynesboro. Rottcher, an intern in the American Embassy in Paris, spoke with French officials about a tree-exchange project the campus was considering in honor of the 1919 effort.

French officials agreed to send 200 trees of different species here in exchange for 200 Pennsylvania seedlings.

They will come from the Pennsylvania State University Tree Nursery near State College, Pa.

Alex Day, director of the nursery, is a Mont Alto alumnus, Taylor said.

Mackley said the French trees have to be cleared through American customs before they are allowed into the country.

The French trees will be planted on the campus and at Michaux State Forest.

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