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Rothrock Week: Tribute to ‘Father of Forestry’ in Pa.

Sixty years ago, the Pennsylvania General Assembly proclaimed the last week of April as Dr. Joseph Trimble Rothrock Memorial Conservation Week in recognition of Rothrock’s contributions to both forestry and botany.

During this week, the General Assembly said, “the citizens shall be encouraged to consider through suitable activities the broader subject of the conservation of all the natural resources from which the wealth of the Commonwealth is derived.”

I think it is appropriate to celebrate this native Mifflin Countian even more this year for his foresight into preserving our forests. Due to the pandemic, the Commonwealth’s state parks and forests saw a record increase in attendance last year and speculation for this year is the same.

Dr. Rothrock, who viewed preservation of forests as integral to our well-being and survival, is owed our gratitude for the places we head to when we look rejuvenate our mind and body.

Not familiar with Joseph Trimble Rothrock? He was born in 1839 in McVeytown to Abraham Rothrock and Phebe Brinton Trimble Rothrock. According to an article on the Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Professionals, Rothrock attributed his love of botany to his mother who was related to the famous Pennsylvanian botanist, William Darlington. Much of Rothrock’s early education was centered around agriculture, the environment and nature.

Many reports state that he used the outdoors as a way of overcoming a childhood illness and in his adult life as a medical doctor, I’m sure his advice often included getting outdoors.

He had many professions throughout his life including explorer, surgeon, botanist, professor, writer and lecturer and he held many prominent positions in the Pennsylvania Forestry Association and the Pennsylvania Forest Commission.

In 1895, Rothrock was appointed as the first forestry commissioner to lead the newly formed Division of Forestry in the Department of Agriculture. This agency evolved into the Bureau of Forestry within the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

In 1903, the forested area now known as Rothrock State Forest was once stripped bare of trees to supply wood to make charcoal for Greenwood, Monroe and Pennsylvania furnaces. When two of the Greenwood Furnace hearths closed, he was instrumental in helping the state purchase the approximately 35,000 acres from the iron company. Purchases of more land followed until most of the Seven Mountains forest area became state land.

Much of the land that is now Rothrock State Forest was cleared of dried underbrush by the men of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression in the 1930s. The CCC also built road and trails in the state forests and parks and many of the recreational facilities still used today in the Rothrock State Forest area.

Today, the Rothrock State Forest is home to nearly 300 miles of hiking trails including the Mid State Trail and the Standing Stone Trail, plus four state parks, Greenwood Furnace, Penn-Roosevelt, Trough Creek and Whipple Dam.

In recognition of Rothrock being heralded as the “Father of Forestry in Pennsylvania,” a boulder-monument was placed in McVeytown on Nov. 1, 1924. The bronze plaque on the monument shows Rothrock in one of his favorite poses with his dog at his heels.

Celebrate Rothrock Week, April 24-30, by taking the good doctor’s advice and take a long walk in the forests that grace Pennsylvania’s landscape.

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Buffie Boyer is a marketing assistant with the Juniata River Valley Visitors Bureau.

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