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‘This Is a Great Forest’: German Contingent Travels to Reading, Vt., to Tour Model Tree Farm

  • A group of visiting German foresters, land owners and scientists look over trees that have been harvested while  touring Sylvan Acres Tree Farm in Reading, Vt., last week. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    A group of visiting German foresters, land owners and scientists look over trees that have been harvested while touring Sylvan Acres Tree Farm in Reading, Vt., last week. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Christa Rodenkirchen, a forest owner and educator from Germany, takes a photograph of a tree at Sylvan Acres Tree Farm in Reading, Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Christa Rodenkirchen, a forest owner and educator from Germany, takes a photograph of a tree at Sylvan Acres Tree Farm in Reading, Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • German forester Hans Steinbauer measures a red oak at Hunt’s Sylvan Acres Tree Farm last week. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    German forester Hans Steinbauer measures a red oak at Hunt’s Sylvan Acres Tree Farm last week. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Fred Hunt in his Reading forest.

    Fred Hunt in his Reading forest. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Betty Roberts has her photograph taken by a group of German visitors Sylvan Acres Tree Farm. Roberts is the daughter of Fred Hunt. Her T-shirt says: “Old foresters never die, they just pine away.” (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Betty Roberts has her photograph taken by a group of German visitors Sylvan Acres Tree Farm. Roberts is the daughter of Fred Hunt. Her T-shirt says: “Old foresters never die, they just pine away.” (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • German geologist Ulli Rast talks with Dorothy Lombard while touring  Sylvan Acres Tree Farm in Reading, Vt., which Lombard’s father, Fred Hunt, owned and managed. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    German geologist Ulli Rast talks with Dorothy Lombard while touring Sylvan Acres Tree Farm in Reading, Vt., which Lombard’s father, Fred Hunt, owned and managed. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • A group of visiting German foresters, land owners and scientists look over trees that have been harvested while  touring Sylvan Acres Tree Farm in Reading, Vt., last week. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Christa Rodenkirchen, a forest owner and educator from Germany, takes a photograph of a tree at Sylvan Acres Tree Farm in Reading, Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • German forester Hans Steinbauer measures a red oak at Hunt’s Sylvan Acres Tree Farm last week. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Fred Hunt in his Reading forest.
  • Betty Roberts has her photograph taken by a group of German visitors Sylvan Acres Tree Farm. Roberts is the daughter of Fred Hunt. Her T-shirt says: “Old foresters never die, they just pine away.” (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • German geologist Ulli Rast talks with Dorothy Lombard while touring  Sylvan Acres Tree Farm in Reading, Vt., which Lombard’s father, Fred Hunt, owned and managed. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

Reading, Vt. — The visitors arrived in three silver minivans and one black Mustang.

They spilled out onto the gravel road, cameras in hand, knapsacks slung over their shoulders, notepads and pens at the ready.

“Good morning,” they said, giving firm handshakes. “Hello.”

Last Thursday, 16 German landowners and one Swiss colleague, many of them geologists and professors interested in forest management, toured Sylvan Acres, the late Fred Hunt’s 759-acre tree farm in Reading.

Hunt died in May 2012 at 87, but his name carries the weight of a mountain in the forestry community, said Jon Bouton, a Windsor County forester who works with the Vermont Department of Forests.

In 1985, Sylvan Acres was named Vermont’s Most Outstanding Tree Farm, Bouton said, and Hunt’s work continues to serve as a strong model for aspiring foresters.

“Fred was a guy who was very focused on the care of his woods, to the point that it was almost spiritual,” said Bouton. “He was widely respected throughout New England.”

And now, throughout the world as well.

Since forest management is an important tradition in Germany, Bouton said, the visit is “a very high commendation for the property.”

But it also marks an international cooperation between two different countries with a common interest.

“We try to learn what we can from each other,” Bouton said.

Herman Rodenkirchen, a tall, private-forest owner of more than 20 years from southwestern Germany, said he and his colleagues arrived with an important mission in mind: to learn from Hunt’s example.

“We are here to study multi-functional forestry,” said Rodenkirchen.

The visitors are members of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft fur Naturgemasse Waldwirtschaft — the Association for Natural Forest Management — a German association founded in 1950. Rodenkirchen said he and the others are trying to combine the social and economic components of a forest to promote better ecological consciousness and more demand for products beyond wood.

But part of that shift involves rich biodiversity and a variety of older and younger trees, Rodenkirchen said, qualities uncharacteristic of most German forests.

So he took to Internet searching for examples of good forestry and discovered Hunt’s tree farm.

Excited, Rodenkirchen sent a letter to the family’s home, which sits on a hill in front of the forest, arranged a visit two years ago through Dorothy “Dot” Lombard, one of Hunt’s daughters, and liked what he saw so much that he wrote a piece in the association’s spring newsletter encouraging members to join him on another visit to the Reading tree farm.

The estate, he said, was a fantastic combination of entrepreneurial spirit and diverse tree species, all recorded in Hunt’s notes with unusual detail and accuracy.

The contingent arrived in Woodstock last Wednesday, spent the evening in a town hotel and cruised to Reading the next morning.

As he stood on the edge of the property, Rodenkirchen said he and his colleagues were impressed. “This a great forest,” he said. “We can learn much from it.”

Lombard was more than happy to give the curious foresters an in-depth tour of her father’s tree farm, and along with her husband, some of her father’s close friends, other family members and her brother Bill Hunt, weaved the travelers through a 3.5-mile loop, stopping at certain points to explain the science and history behind the tree farm’s growth.

During the walk, the Americans and their guests shared jokes and laughed. White pines, birches and oaks towered along the path. The holes in the canopy revealed an overcast day. But the weather didn’t dampen the group’s enthusiasm.

Lombard, 66, answered every question the group had with a smile, and treated the forest she grew up in with the same reverence the visitors did.

“What’s impressive, to me, is that Fred did all this alone,” said Norbert Asche, who teaches a course on forestry at Hoxter University in central Germany and jokingly calls himself “a tree doctor.”

He asked Lombard about her father.

“Daddy was a data person,” Lombard said. “He liked to do his work alone, but we all helped him at some point. We’d take his chart and write down his tallies.”

Lombard said her father worked several years on the tree farm before he bought the property in 1956. He would work from sunrise to moonrise. He loaded logs into his four-wheel drive skidder, cut away brush and took lengthy notes.

He knew every tree in the forest, Lombard said, and cataloged at least 80,000 in his lifetime.

“He couldn’t stay away,” she said, adding that even during a 10-year teaching stint at Paul Smith’s College in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, her father would drive south on weekends to visit his tree haven.

“He would have been so happy to see you guys,” she said.

Asche smiled and put on a hand on her shoulder. “We would have loved to tell him that he did it right.”

At one point, Lombard and her brother steered the visitors to a square of land and explained that this plot, about one-fifth of an acre, was one of 81 scattered throughout the property.

“He set these plots up in 1973,” Bill Hunt said, motioning to a wooden stake in the ground.

In order to keep precise records of each tree’s growth, Bill Hunt said, his father would measure everything within 52 feet of the stake.

Franz Risse, another German association member and forester, made notes on his tablet and pointed to a green root wiggling in the breeze.

“Birch,” he said. He shifted his gaze to a different root a few feet over. “That’s oak.”

The trees are thin and thick at Hunt’s farm, Risse said, born at different times and left to grow in natural circumstances.

“In most forests in Germany, the trees are even-aged and the same size,” he said, “and this is not the case.”

Ulli Rast, a visitor from southern Germany, noted another difference between German and American forests.

In Hunt’s forest, Rast said, there isn’t a closed canopy. The tops of trees don’t completely block the sunlight.

“In Germany, there’s always a dark canopy,” Rast said. “But here, you can always see the sky.”

Zack Peterson can be reached at 603-727-3211 or zpeterson@vnews.com