Family, friends, DCNR officials honor late state forester
When the Nelson family gathers Thursday at the holiday table, its members have a bittersweet reason to be thankful. A loved one may be gone from their Thanksgiving, but his family, friends and former DCNR colleagues ensured he never would be forgotten by Tuscarora State Forest visitors and others.
On a sun-washed, brisk November day, assembled between the banks of the Juniata River and edge of a sprawling state forest wild area, a crowd of no less than 80 saluted a late state forester with the name James C. Nelson and accomplishments seemingly as vast as the state forests he loved.
So fitting, said all, that 5,382 acres of wilderness should be named for the person who fought so hard to protect it. At its edge, just off Route 333 in Juniata County, a newly erected sign now tells visitors they are entering the James C. Nelson Wild Area. And what a special place it is!
Iris K. Nelson speaks at the renaming of a Tuscarora State Forest wild area in honor of her husband, the late James C. Nelson. She is joined by (from left) DCNR Secretary Richard Allan, the Nelsons’ granddaughter, Alexis Danielle Web, Bureau of Forestry Assistant Director Michael Lester, and DCNR Deputy Secretary Ellen Ferretti.
“This wild area holds a very special place in the hearts of those working in this district,” Tuscarora State Forest District Gene Odato told the Nov. 14 gathering. “Due to its remoteness and rugged terrain, it’s home to trophy-size deer, black bear and, I’m sure, a few bobcats. And if you’re willing to hike in a bit, you’ll see the bald eagle nests.”
Odato joined fellow Bureau of Forestry colleagues, DCNR Secretary Richard Allan and Deputy Secretary Ellen Ferretti in renaming the former Tuscarora Wild Area in honor of the late Mr. Nelson , who served as state forester from 1989 to 1994.
Mr. Nelson’s widow, Iris K. Nelson, and other family members joined DCNR officials in unveiling the sign identifying the newly name tract that straddles the Juniata-Perry county line, not far from Thompsontown. Mr. Nelson, who died in March at 81, worked 42 years with the bureau and is credited with shaping many innovative state forest management principals.
“Those of you working with me at the Rachel Carson State Office Building know Mr. Nelson’s photograph hangs on the sixth floor, framed by the likenesses of men and women who have emerged as virtual pillars in the American success story that is Pennsylvania forestry,” Allan told the group. “To his right, Dr. Joseph T. Roth rock is identified as the ‘Father of Pennsylvania Forestry.’ To the left, a portrait of Mira Lloyd Dock, ‘Mother of Pennsylvania Forestry.’ The photograph of the late James C. Nelson is in rare company, to be sure.
Longtime friends and former Bureau of Forestry district foresters and fellow workers gather at the dedication of the James C. Nelson Wild Area in Tuscarora State Forest.
“So, too, are the many accomplishments noted beneath that photo.”
Mr. Nelson is credited with creating and developing many new and ground-breaking forestry programs in Pennsylvania, the secretary said. They include: the State Forest Resource Management Plan; even-age timber management; Pennsylvania Heritage and Stewardship programs; Society of American Forester’s Sustainability Report; and the bureau’s Natural and Wild Area designation program.
“Forests such as the one behind me serve as beacons for recreation, watershed protection, employment and so much more,” Allan said. “Mr. Nelson knew that. He worked tirelessly to make them shine.”
Across Pennsylvania, the state forest system contains 14 wild Areas and 61 natural areas. All support unique biologic, geologic, scenic and historic features while often encouraging enjoyment of hiking, hunting, fishing and the pursuit of solitude. To retain the undeveloped character of the area, no permanent development is permitted.
With a little help from Tuscarora District Forester Gene Odato, Alexis Danielle Web speaks of her grandfather, the late James C. Nelson.
Located on the eastern end of Tuscarora Mountain, the former Tuscarora Wild Area consists of a single tract, a section of which borders the Juniata River. Timbered between 1902 and 1917, the tract was purchased by the state in 1964. Except for the remains of a logging railroad, there is little evidence of man-made disturbance in this area where primitive backpack camping is popular.
“I understand this was one of Jim’s favorite areas and he often talked about why he felt it should be set aside as a wild area,” Allan said. “It is truly fitting—as you come south down Route 322 from Mifflintown—that the forested tract you see filling your windshield now will be forever known as the James C. Nelson Wild Area.”
Noting out-of-state business kept Bureau of Forestry Director and State Forester Daniel Devlin from attending the ceremony, the secretary noted Devlin described his predecessor, longtime friend and mentor as “a pioneer in so many ways.
“Many of the programs we work on today are a result of Jim’s foresight and vision … Jim Nelson loved the forest and he loved forestry,” Allan said, quoting Devlin. ‘“He was a great historian and more importantly loved to share his knowledge with anyone and everyone. He definitely was a spokesperson for the trees and the forests of Pennsylvania.”
Like Devlin, Bureau of Forestry Assistant Director Michael Lester worked years with Mr. Nelson, noting he was a “driving force behind our wild and natural areas…You always knew exactly where Jim stood on these and so many other issues.
“Jim was a giant in the field of forestry,” Lester said. “He never would say that, or agree with that, but so many others would. You see that here today when you look around.”
You’ll see something else if you look around the dedication site today: two long-stemmed red roses, placed by family members, now adorn the new sign. Fitting footnotes, many would say, to the man who sometimes could be tough and thorny, but always committed to protecting the fragile beauty of the state forests.
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