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Ranger will watch over forest

Mike Baines calls the Wayne National Forest in Lawrence County a treasure.

Monday, August 02, 1999

Mike Baines calls the Wayne National Forest in Lawrence County a treasure.

Lakes, streams, wildlife, history – it’s all here, Baines said.

"There are a lot of things out there if you find the people with the time and resources to go after it," he said.

From regional tourist promotion to private development, it just takes one entrepreneur with vision to create an investment that will benefit the county, Baines said.

"People really don’t know the treasure at their doorstep."

Baines, the Wayne’s new district ranger in Ironton, began his duties July 6.

But he has been forging his U.S. Forest Service philosophies since 1973, working in the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania, in the Wayne-Hoosier National Forest in southern Indiana, in southern Illinois and in northern California.

He and his wife, Paulette, have three children, and are moving from Pennsylvania.

Since his hiring, Baines has been visiting all areas of the forest and learning, he said.

There are good trails, good management of wildlife, and projects like access road repairs at Timbre Ridge Lake and Lake Vesuvius moving with good speed, he said.

There are concerns, though, Baines said.

Illegal dumping mars the countryside and can be a problem for economic development, too, he said.

An avid ATV rider, Baines said some trails need work to ensure no damage to the environment while providing the needed "chills and spills" for tourists and residents.

By partnering with the public, the forest might help with recycling programs or enforcement of open dumping laws, he said.

That work with the public has become a primary goal because many people do not know what the U.S. Forest Service’s mission is all about, Baines said.

"They refer to us as Vesuvius state park or forestry, which is not correct," he said.

Federal forests receive U.S. tax dollars dedicated by Congress to specific tasks.

That’s why the public call for a lodge is disappointing, he said.

"Of all the national forests I’ve been on, there is not one structure unless it’s a ski lodge or resort," Baines said.

Such structures are developed by entrepreneurs who have a special use permit, he said.

"We could not even decide to build a lodge," he added.

But the Forest Service can help market the area to entrepreneurs and others who might build lodges, Baines said.

"We have a fantastic area to do that, with the furnaces and history of the underground railroad, provided an entrepreneur is found who wants to invest," he said.

And partnering with the communities of the county is the best way to accomplish that goal – whether it’s advertising campaigns or cleaning up illegal dumps, he said.

That same philosophy can be applied to controversies like the Forest Service’s land purchasing program, too, Baines added.

"I probably can’t convince some about the need for land acquisition, so I won’t," he said. "That means we’re not going to work together on land acquisition but there ought to be other areas we can work on to make a difference in the community."

In other words, take lemons and make lemonade, and don’t let the dislike of land purchases prevent work on other forest projects, Baines said.

For example, the Forest Service in a Pennsylvania county that is mostly federal tax-exempt land partnered with a volunteer fire department to help raise funds through an ATV poker run, he said.

What was once a $1,200 fund-raiser suddenly brought in $30,000, he said.

"Not all people will be accepting what we do, so let’s pick things we both agree on and work together."

Meanwhile, Baines’ Wayne National Forest district ranger job is the job that caused him to go back to college in 1976, and he looks forward to many years at the post, he said.

And the ranger there is just one thing about being back in this part of the country that bugs him.

"I never really cared for chiggers and now we’re back in chigger country."