A hundred years ago John Glenn’s gift of 43 acres of the Hilton Estate to the Board of Forestry marked a turning point in the history of Maryland’s forests and parks. It is an event worthy of celebration and I am honored to be part of it. In April of this year I had the pleasure of standing next to Robert Garrett to recognize another turning point in Maryland’s history. His family’s 1906 donation of 1200 acres of forest land in Western Maryland mandated the creation of a Maryland Forest Service and launched the centennial which we have been celebrating for the past year. These two farsighted men, John Glenn and Robert Garrett, deserve great credit for their wisdom as well as their generosity and the interaction between the processes which they launched is a matter of fascination to historians. As we look back, it is clear that acquisition of parkland helped stimulate public interest in purchasing more forest land and that newly acquired forest land began to be used more and more for outdoor recreation.
As it turned out both of these gifts of land had great significance in the life of my grandfather, Fred W. Besley. The gift of the Garrett land, which resulted in the establishment of a forest agency in Maryland, brought him to the position of State Forester where he served with distinction for 36 years. When I stood next to Robert Garrett a couple of months ago I thanked him for providing employment to my grandfather and for involving four generations of my family in Maryland forestry.
The Patapsco Valley State Park has played an important role in the life of Marylanders for a century. Grandfather Besley sensed early on that by encouraging camping and recreational use of public lands he could create a more informed and inspired citizenry, thus supporting the State’s efforts to conserve forest resources. Simply put, he used this interest to help build a constituency. The gathering here today is a good illustration of the success of that kind of strategy. The people in this room represent a broad spectrum of interests which are joined in supporting conservation of parks and forests. The Friends of the Patapsco Valley State Park can be justifiably proud of what you have done and will do.
On a more personal side the Patapsco Park has also played a role in the life of my family. Grandfather was a great believer in practicing what he preached. By 1912 a small recreation area had been developed along the Patapsco River and people were flocking out of Baltimore to picnic, swim and camp. Early efforts at camping reflected some uneasiness with nature. According to a recent article in the magazine “Maryland Life”: “Photographs depict Patapsco State Park campers in 1915 pitching their canvas tents alongside their pianos and tending to camp fires dressed in suits and ties.” Grandfather decided that he wanted to demonstrate recreational use of forest land in a very practical way, by camping with his own family and making his campsite open to the public. He chose a site just above Cascade Falls which we located last fall based on photos he took along the stream bank.
His youngest daughter, Helen Besley Overington, (my “Aunt Holly”) who will celebrate here 100th birthday next month, has best described those early camping experiences. She particularly remembers the steep climb up the hill to the campsite which she often made while carrying large quantities of groceries and supplies for the frequent hungry visitors as well as her family.
She also shared with me her memories of helping her mother up the hill. She said: “Mother was a good sport about going places despite her arthritis, be she was worried about that climb. I said I will push you from behind, so she said OK.” I like to try to imagine that scene.
I hope that some of you will make that climb to the site which has now been definitively located thanks to the efforts of some members of the Centennial Committee and the sharp eyes of my son Brian.
Aunt Holly went on to say: “My father was very much in favor of making recreational use one of the big things that forest resources offered.” She said he shared the view of then Maryland Governor Ritchie who said: “The closer you get to the people the better it is.” There is great wisdom on those words.
The event today is about people and their love of the out of doors. And it is about the vision of those who helped establish this park a hundred years ago and those here present who cherish it and will care for it in years to come.
Address by Kirk P. Rodgers, Grandson of Maryland's First State Forester
Helen Besley Overington & her sister at Patapsco Valley State Park camp in 1921Besley Family Campsite at Patapsco Valley State Park, 1920
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