Herbert Welsh and Dorothy Whipple missed the chance to visit Gifford Pinchot when they passed through Milford, Pennsylvania. Pinchot was the first head of the National Forest Service, and considered a founder of the American conservation movement; Welsh helped found the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and is almost forgotten.
Alas! that on this visit there was no time to show my young protegee the many interesting and beautiful spots about Milford, the many exquisite cascades formed by streams that filter through the forests and hills to empty into the Delaware. Also there is the famous turreted chateau of the Pinchot family, now the home of Gifford Pinchot, who is noted for his interest and achievements in the line of political reform, but especially at this time for his advocacy of a forest policy for Pennsylvania and the country at large that will turn the balance from a consumption of timber that dangerously exceeds production to the reverse of that alarming state of affairs.
Pinchot’s kind of conservation was less “wild,” less philosophically radical, than that espoused by John Muir (1838-1914). Pinchot favored bringing the wilderness under the aegis of the federal government and working with the timber and mining companies, the “extraction industries.” Pinchot and Teddy Roosevelt were allies. For the most part, Pinchot’s vision has prevailed over Muir’s.
I am haunted by the kind of deep conundrums these early 20th-century conservationists faced. Preserve, protect, or neglect? Use it, or abuse it? Should wilderness be useful? Scenic? Sublime? Many wild acres between Pennsylvania and New Hampshire have been protected only by neglect–not preserved because the land is beautiful, but beautiful because it had been forgotten.
Pinchot’s legacy in the Keystone State is secure: as governor when the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board was created after Prohibition ended in 1923, he stated that the purpose of the Board was to “discourage the purchase of alcoholic beverages by making it as inconvenient and expensive as possible.” In that, he succeeded. Less successfully his compatriot Welsh wanted to end the use of torture by the American military and solve “The Indian Problem” in the West.
But while walkers can see some things that are lost to other tourists, there are other advantages which they must forego if they are ever to reach their journey’s end, and these pleasures were of that order.
Pinchot’s home, Grey Towers, is today a National Historical Site. I plan to stop,and contemplate what conservation means a hundred years on.