The National Children's Forest.
In the San Bernardino National Forest 85 miles east of Los Angeles is a patch of forest that died in flames 23 years ago, was replanted and brought back to life, and has been cared for ever since by boys and girls.
A 20-acre enclave perched on a 7,000-foot saddle of Keller Peak, the National Children's Forest is visited mostly by children on school or summer-camp field trips. There they learn that this forest now grows just one generation after its predecessor was consumed by one of the fastest-moving fires in history. The Bear Fire, erupting from an illegal open campfire on November 13, 1970, burned 28,000 acres in eight hours--that's an acre a second.
George Hesemann fought that fire as a summer ranger and has been its caretaker ever since. He selected the site for the Children's Forest in 1971 and manages it as founder and executive director of the Rim of the World Interpretive Association, based at Lake Arrowhead, California. Hesemann, now 67 and a retired science teacher, does all this as a volunteer. His all-volunteer group cares for the Forest--and operates Heaps Peak Arboretum and staffs two fire lookouts--with the U.S. Forest Service.
Hundreds of Boy and Girl Scouts and Campfire Girls--mobilized by Hunt-Wesson Foods and the Forest Service--spent two years establishing the Children's Forest, planting trees and grasses and building trail. "Some of the kids were crippled, some had to be carried in, some suffered from terminal illness," Hesemann recalls. "But they were thrilled to play a part in restoring the forest."
The work included wheelbarrowing in 197 tons of material to build a trail for those in wheelchairs and for the blind. Standard and braille signs describe the flora and fauna along the trail. "Listen to the voices of the meadows," says the sign at one stop, where you hear the pleasant cacophony of mountain chickadees, bluebirds, towhees, and other birds.
Two similar forests have been established in other parts of the country: the Eastern Children's Forest near Covington, Virginia, in the George Washington National Forest, and the Missouri Children's Forest in the Mark Twain National Forest near Willow Springs.
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|Title Annotation:||Burning Issues|
|Date:||May 1, 1993|
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