A step back in time
February 15, 2015
In honor of Virginia Cooperative Extension’s centennial in 2014, we present this brief history of Extension forestry, as drawn from a 1980 publication titled “College of the Fields.” Read the complete history, which references a number of former college faculty members, at
Virginia’s Extension forestry legacy began at the University of Virginia in 1919 with the appointment of Wilbur O’Bryne from Yale. O’Bryne taught and served from Charlottesville for at least six years before he became a forestry professor and Extension forester at Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College, now known as Virginia Tech. His forest management work focused on timber harvesting and erosion control.
The pressure of World War II ramped up the need for more forestry education in Virginia, and Extension hired its first district forester in 1942. The aptly named Forrest Patton was appointed to the Northeast District, and foresters were hired several years later to cover the Southeast, Central, and Piedmont regions. All were based in Blacksburg, the coordination center for programs and publications.
During the 1950s, forestry educational programs were broadened to include the many landowners who weren’t farmers. Garden clubs and businesses sought forestry information, and the eastern counties organized forestry clubs to promote effective practices. Extension hosted field days and judging days that drew forest owners as well as FFA and 4-H youth.
Carl Holcomb became Extension forester in 1955 following O’Bryne’s retirement, and Will McElfresh became assistant Extension forester three years later. Holcomb helped to organize the Lumber Manufacturers Association of Virginia. The first logging and sawmill show was held in Crozet in 1960; it evolved into the present-day Expo Richmond, America’s largest forest products industry trade show.
Extension foresters started the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association in 1961. By the late 1960s, public interest in outdoor recreation spurred Extension foresters to help organize the Virginia Campground Operators Association. As environmental interest grew, Extension personnel also worked with towns and cities to establish recreation departments.
As wildlife programs developed in the 1960s and 1970s, requests for programs on stream and pond management for fisheries grew. In 1976 Louis Helfrich was hired to work with sport and commercial fisheries across the state.
Extension faculty increasingly devoted research time to solving industry and consumer problems such as perfecting solar kilns and directing pallet research. Specialists have continued working through local Extension agents to arrange tax assessment and forest finances short courses. They have also coordinated, in cooperation with many federal and state agency personnel, the popular resource management bus tours across Virginia.