A century of National Forests

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The Washington Post
The Washington Post
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 3, 2011; 1:36 PM

On March 1, give a tree a hug - then 99 more for good luck.

One hundred years ago on that date, President William Howard Taft signed the Weeks Act, allowing the government to purchase and manage despoiled lands for multiuse purposes. Since then, the law has taken 25 million acres under its protective wing. If you're looking for a new bucket list, try visiting all 155 national forests.

"The national forests have preserved open space and given us the possibility of reconnecting with the land," said James Lewis, historian of the nonprofit Forest History Society. The crown jewels of the system, he added, "are in the East, most within a day's drive of Washington."

The first national forest created under the law was North Carolina's Pisgah (1916); the most recent, in 1961, were the Uwharrie in North Carolina and the Delta in Mississippi. The closest to Washington: the George Washington and Jefferson national forests, which are also the largest. And the smallest - just to complete this trivia riff - is the 50,000-acre Uwharrie.

To celebrate the centennial, we suggest the ideal party place: any of the four national forests within easy reach of Washington. Here's some background info and recreational and lodging ideas.

Allegheny

Groundwork: Established in 1923, with 513,325 acres in northwest Pennsylvania.

Drive time: About five hours to the Ridgway entrance.

Go play: Poke around (by paddle) the 100 or so undeveloped islands along the Kinzua Dam-Oil City stretch of the Allegheny River. . . . Hike the 96.3-mile North Country National Scenic Trail, which treads on old Iroquois ground and is part of a multi-state route that, when complete, will stretch 3,200 miles from New York to North Dakota. . . . Gas up the snow machine for the 366-mile Allegheny Snowmobile Loop Network. . . . Ski to (your) Hearts Content, a 6.4-mile cross-country trail along an old railroad grade. . . . Ride the rapids on the Clarion River Water Trail, which starts bubbling in early spring. . . . The Kinzua Wolf Run Marina rents boats (motor, paddle, pontoon) on the Allegheny Reservoir.

Sleep over: The marina offers houseboat accommodations, from $700 for four nights. The Willow Bay Recreation Area, one of 20 campgrounds, h as 11 cabins with electricity ($50; reopens May 22). Check out the towns of Warren and Bradford for alternate lodging.

Info: 814-723-5150

George Washington and Jefferson

GroundWork: George Washington became a national forest in 1918; Jefferson in 1936. Though separate entities, they're managed as one unit. Total acreage equals 1.8 million, 1.1 million of it in George Washington. The forests sprawl through central-west Virginia and dip a toe into West Virginia.

Drive time: The closest access is at the northern end of the George Washington, a 45-minute drive from Washington.


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