Sunday, July 23, 2017  

A Man of the Land
Forester Henry Bashore, a profile  

Many on the Northern Neck know his name. Many more know him by his works. His vision has changed the face of this land. His walls display his many awards. He can name the forests and trees as quickly as the names of friends and family. He has changed the face of this area and helped preserve the story and charm of its history and open spaces.

Now how can one person accomplish so much and not be in politics or public office, the arts or entertainment?

Henry Bashore was born in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. He recalls as a youth when he decided to become a forester. Upon graduating from high school he remembered, “My parents could not afford to send me to college. My father put me in the car and we drove to Harrisburg. We met with Senator Pearson and he arranged a senatorial scholarship. I went to Penn State, the Mount Alto Forestry division and learned forestry. I boarded in a house in town with another student, Lewis Lasenring for the first year.

My grandmother Baer helped to fund my education. I worked tending a furnace that supplied the hot water for the nurse’s dormitory. Then I stayed on main campus for the remaining 3 years. In summer, I went to summer camps and learned the use of the transit and other practical experience.”

His forestry career spanned more than 45 years. He moved to Virginia and worked with the forestry department in Orange County, the Chesapeake Bay Eastern Shore and for most of his career, Lancaster and Northumberland Counties.

Serving as a forester meant to Henry serving the people of the area. While working in Orange County, he became very familiar with the families of the mountains and especially the families of the area near Old Rag Mountain, in neighboring Madison County.

This beautiful area with gentle mountains and lush valleys filled with family farms and apple orchards has a history that fascinated Henry. When camping in the 60s with his family, he noticed what looked like the remnants of a homestead in the woods. This interested Henry and grew into a passion to find and explore this area and to know the people who had lived there. He befriended many of the mountain folk. He camped there with scouts, church groups, friends and family. He would talk anyone he could into climbing Old Rag with him. He recalls that over the years he climbed the mountain more than 50 times.

Old Rag Mountain is well known as a demanding day’s hike, just short of the need of mountaineering equipment. Weddings have been held on its summit. Seasons have come and gone with equal splendor, but Henry kept up his search into its history. Henry monitored “table top pines” growing near its summit. These trees grow in seemingly no soil, with nutrients leached from the rocks by rain water. For years he would climb up to the same area on the mountain, work his way out on a large precariously perched granite bolder to the same tree and measure its growth. The final time, when he was well into his 80s, with a new pacemaker, he had to settle for a picture at the insistence of his climbing companion.

This mountain is at the center of what had become Shenandoah National Park. The tales told to Henry by these people are the stories of how the Shenandoah National Park began. “Some of the happiest years of my life were up there climbing Old Rag Mountain,” he stated.

His career in forestry led him to the Northern Neck. Here he quietly focused on the woods and open spaces that drew so many to this place. He became a member of the Ruritan club, Audubon and Native Plant Society. He spoke to many people of his passion, preserving the undeveloped spaces and the woods. He walked. I mean he really walked! A hike with Henry was one of solid cardio vascular effort. Striding behind him along wooded paths, you carefully attempted to avoid his swinging walking stick. Occasionally he would stop, put his hands on his hips, look upwards and you became accustomed to the fact that a “tree” lecture was about to begin.

He believed that “Keeping open undeveloped spaces can not happen in a void. Homeowners need to tend their forested land carefully to provide changing habitat for animals and birds. Timbering is a means to pay their taxes and expenses while providing habitat.”

Providing that guidance became a quiet focus for Henry. He presented slide shows for the community on the Great Blue Rookeries, and some of the wooded wonders of this area. In 1999 the Lancaster county board of supervisors made a proposal to develop the “Poor House Tract,”60 some acres of land off of route 3 near Lancaster Court House. Henry swung into action. He worked with countless others to raise the public awareness of this beautiful area. A task force formed, “Friends of Hickory Hollow”, who worked to encourage the transfer of the property from the county to Audubon. Many meetings were attended by the interested public. Henry’s granddaughter, Coleen, tearfully pleaded with the supervisors that “My Grandfather has a dream!”

They were heard! In 2000 Hickory Hollow became a wonderful preserve. The paths originally cleared by Henry and others provide hiking trails through woods of hickory and oaks, wild ginger, marsh marigolds and skunk cabbage. Native orchids of more than a dozen varieties bloom and delight.

Hikes led by the Native Plant Society and Audubon are often and interesting. In 2002 Corey Morgan erected the kiosk for his Eagle Scout project where brochures can be found to help interpret the area. Following the dedication of Hickory Hollow, a plaque was erected honoring Henry Bashore for his industrious and tireless work.

There are more wooded acres on the Northern Neck now than in colonial times, according to Rich Steensma, forester in the Northern Neck since 2000. The population in the 1920s was two thousand larger than today at 12,000.

Loblolly, oak and poplar are cash crops for this area. They are actively rejuvenating timbered spaces. These provide shelter and shade, wonderful pinecones and habitat for critters.

Over the years, conservation easements began to enter the preservation picture. Conservation easements are legal agreements that are available between several agencies and land owners. This agreement preserves the land from future development and has tax saving incentives.

While it takes years to develop a relationship with land owners and years to ensure their confidence, Henry slowly and purposefully worked towards that end.

The Chiltons, Rand and Trini, owned 400 acres, west of Lively off of route 3 and Field Trial Road. Walking their land, helping them to manage habitat and timbering efforts, Henry became their friend. Now years after their deaths, this land has become Chilton Woods, the first State Forest in the Northern Neck.

Rich Steensma has hiked this area with Henry countless times. With Henry’s and his guidance, trails have been developed by the Native Plant Society volunteers and the Master Naturalists. The camera stake placed by Henry to consistently monitor the growth of a loblolly pine is preserved.

Henry has pictures of Rand Chilton standing by the 4-year-old specimen and Trini standing beside it when it was 11 years of age. I know Rich will continue that legacy.

Neighbors to the Chiltons, knew Henry. He walked their land and knew it well. He spoke with them over time about conservation easements and one has been enacted.

Every forester and naturalist knows of outstanding trees. The Chicacoan oak of Heathsville, Northumberland, stood for many years at the intersection of Route 201 and 360. Named after a nearby Indian trail, it loomed as a great white oak for centuries.

Henry Bashore obtained some of its wonderful acorns and quietly grew some trees. When this great oak finished its life cycle, a slice of it was preserved and can be viewed at the Transportation Building behind the Hughlett Tavern. The oaks are growing happily nearby.

Henry Bashore retired as a forester in the 1980s. He has continued to work on his vision with the current forester.

The job of the forester is to promote sustainable forestry. Rich Steensma who has been in forestry for 17 years, knows it is an expense to own land.

“Forest management is about mimicking the life cycles. Sustainable forestry, is limiting expense while providing alternatives to development. Life in the forest is like people, it has a life expectancy. Habitats are not lost, they are changed.”

In 1909 a massive Virginia timber boom preempted a building boom. This uncontrolled harvest and erosion of the forests sparked a conservation and preservation movement. Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir were among the early directors of this movement. Gifford Pinchot was the first formally trained forester in the United States.

Native trees are strongly recommended for their ability to adapt to climate, soils and resistance to insects and diseases. Non native species carry the ever-present concern of invasiveness.

Forest management may involve clear-cutting, an often controversial measure. This technique involves the removal of all the trees in the timbering process. With clear cuts, 30% of the area is replanted and the rest is naturally regenerated. If trees are cut for only the largest and best, then the weakest and smallest are remaining. The concern becomes the generation of the next crop from the weakest of the species.

The forestry department monitors a clear-cut to minimize the erosion and pollution concerns for one year following the process. Skid trails, from the removal of the logs at a timbering site, a source of possible water erosion, are advised to be cross dressed with wood. The first growing season is observed to evaluate for new growth.

In the beginning, Stone Age people managed the forests with fire. They shot the game that ran from the fire. They cleared the land for agriculture. The Powhatan Indians were agrarian and cleared the land for their crops.

The Virginia Department of Forestry is available for landowner assistance. Insect and disease information and guidance can be obtained. A forester will visit your site upon request and help discern between the need for either an arborist or tree contractor. A reliable list of these contractors is available.

The preservation of this land continues. The Division of Natural Heritage manages some of our outstanding open spaces. Heuglett Point, Bushmill Stream Preserve and Dameron Marsh are among the fine examples of these treasured areas.

And so the legacy continues. Henry Bashore is 91. He wrote a book, “Old Rag Mountain, Rebirth of a Wilderness” in 2006. His awards include one for “Excellence in Community Service” from the Daughters of the American Revolution in 2000, and the Ambassador Award from the Northumberland Association for Progressive Stewardship in 2004.

Henry lives in Kilmarnock with his wife Margie. He is surrounded by a loving and attentive family and many friends. His gait has slowed but not his vision. He is here in the land he loves and helped to preserve. He truly is a man of the land.