On July 31, 2007, Helen “Holly” Besley
Overington, daughter of Maryland’s legendary first State Forester, Fred
W. Besley, will celebrate her 100th birthday by officiating at the
Maryland State Forest & Park Service Centennial Time Capsule Ceremony. Holly
will throw the first ceremonial hand-full of dirt to help bury the Time Capsule
at Gambrill State Park, just outside of Frederick.
capsule contains the following message:
Burial of the Centennial time
capsule was deferred to July 31, 2007, to coincide with the 100th
birthday of Helen (“Holly”) Besley Overington, the surviving child
of Maryland’s first State Forester, Fred Wilson Besley. Mrs.
Overington was born in the year that her father recorded the deed
for the first public forest land in Maryland. Since her wonderful
life spanned all but the first few months of forestry and parks’
first century, it seemed appropriate to mark her Centennial with
burial of the Maryland Forestry and Parks Centennial time capsule.
The Maryland Forestry and Parks Centennial is a year-long
celebration of our public forest and park lands, recognizing the accomplishments
and milestones made over the past one hundred years. The Centennial Celebration
gives Marylanders an opportunity to think about future generations and how our
environmental stewardship will benefit them.
Ms. Overington and other descendants of Fred W. Besley
participated in several State Forest & Park Service Centennial events throughout
the past year, adding their personnel touch to the history of the Maryland State
Forest & Park Service. The Forest Service originated in April 1906 when
Besley was named Maryland’s first State Forester. He was one of only
three state foresters in the country at the time.
In the early 1890s, Gifford Pinchot had become the nation's
first practicing forester. In 1898, he began his 12-year career as chief of what
became the U.S. Forest Service. In 1900, he founded the Yale School of Forestry
and the Society of American Foresters.
Pinchot told Besley he ought to
go into forestry. Besley later recalled this defining moment of the time they
first met, “Pinchot was so boiling over with enthusiasm about forestry that then
and there I adopted forestry as my career.”
Mrs. Overington recalls, “Gifford Pinchot was trying to get
forestry more active in the states. Pinchot was my father's mentor."
Besley served as State Forester for 36 years under seven of Maryland’s Governors, retiring on February
16, 1942. He still holds the national record for the longest continuous service of a State Forester (1906-1942). Fred
Besley was an early environmental educator and his presentations included topics
about roadside tree care, forest pests and diseases, and dendrology (tree
Her father took Holly and his
other children all around the State of Maryland as he performed his duties as
State Forester; thus she is an eyewitness to the very beginnings of forest
conservation in Maryland.
Mrs. Overington visited big
trees located on lands throughout the state, as her father inventoried
Maryland’s Big Trees, launching the first State Big Tree Champion contest in
1925, which was later modeled throughout the nation. In the first
state-wide Maryland Big Tree Champion Contest of 1925, Besley noted that 450
entries were received. Besley acted as “umpire in measuring those [trees that]
appeared to be competitors in the prize winning class.”
She camped with the family at
the Patapsco Reserve, which later became Maryland’s first State Park, and
remembers how difficult it was to carry camp supplies up the hillside trail to
the Besley Campground. “People didn't know much about outdoor recreation
then”, remarks Mrs. Overington. ”Father made his family camp at Patapsco on
weekends at the Orange Grove camp. It was a way to show the urban population
In addition to Mrs. Overington’s
impeccable memory regarding the early years of the conservation movement in
Maryland, she was an avid outdoors woman in her own right, camping, hiking and
bicycling for most of her life. An
adventurer throughout her life, Mrs. Overington holds the record as the
oldest person to take the fast-moving “zip line” at Antietam Recreation,
in 1989 at the age of 82.
Mrs. Overington, of Waynesboro,
Pennsylvania, was born July 31, 1907 in Washington, D.C. She graduated from
Goucher College in 1928 with a degree in biology. She received her master’s
degree in genetics and cytology from Cornell University in 1930. After
teaching biology and general science for 12 years in New York and Maryland, she
married noted ornithologist, Robert Bruce Overington, in 1943. She is Director
Emeritus of Besley Rodgers, Inc., a family timber corporation.
Francis "Champ" Zumbrun, manager of Green Ridge State Forest, and Peggy
Weller, daughter of Helen Besley Overington assisted in the development of this
article as well as with supplying family photographs.
580 Taylor Ave., Annapolis MD 21401
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