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Celebrating 75 years of growth

WNF ceremony planned for May 12

The Wayne National Forest began as just 43 acres of land in Lawrence County in 1935. After 75 years, the forest now has 241,000 acres with land in 12 different counties and employs 70 people.

While the official anniversary date was in November of 2010, there will be a celebration ceremony May 12, 2011 along with an open house.

“We will have opportunities to go up in a historic fire tower and we have also got some guided tours throughout the facility, displays from partners, the garden in the back, light refreshments – we are still in the planning stages,” said Gary Chancey, public affairs officer.

“The public is welcome to join us.”

Wayne National Forest provides recreation opportunities to visitors who want to fish, hike, bike or enjoy the off-highway vehicle trail systems. More than 500,000 people visit the forest annually, helping the local economy, Chancey said.

When the forest was originally purchased, most of it was bare of trees, but over the last 75 years, Chancey said it is now reforested with trees that are helping improve the habitat for wildlife.

“They have returned back to Southeastern Ohio, and where many of those species weren’t here, they have returned to a forested landscape with food,” he said.

Chancey said they have also, just in the last 10 years, completed 32 abandoned mineland projects, that has improved the water quality.

When the forest acquired land used previously for coalmining operations, the streams had acid mine damage. In simple terms, when it rains and water goes into the mine system, it comes out into the stream system, leaving the water unsafe for wildlife.

“We go in and close those openings where the rain water goes into and channel the water off the surface and it will go into the streams without going into the mines, making it ideal for aquatic life,” Chancey said.

Chancey said it is really still a baby forest, with young trees, and that they continually look for ways to help the forest grow and flourish.

“As we look to the next 75 years, the 2006 forest plan emphasizes our continued commitment to improve wildlife habitat and ecosystem restoration,” he said.

One of the ways they are trying to do this is by returning oak and hickory trees to the landscape.

“Historically, oak and hickory forests have dominated our woods and provided critical habitat to a variety of wildlife species,” he said. He added that wildlife depend on them for food, and to help the oak and hickory trees continue to flourish, they have planned prescribed burning.

Chancey is appreciative of what the forest has to offer.

“Today with all the trees, it’s very beautiful to me, especially with the fall, with the oaks turning colors,” he said.

In addition to people coming out to enjoy the forest, Chancey said there are ways they can volunteer their time to help too.

“We really appreciate the public’s involvement,” he said. “It’s their national forest too. As we move along throughout the next 75 years, there are a lot of great opportunities for the public to engage with the forest service in helping. There are a lot of volunteer opportunities.”