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State School of Forestry

6/8/2005:

[podcast]/media/dakotadatebook/2005/jun/08.mp3[/podcast]

The immigrants who flooded into this region in the late 1800s found abundant fertile plains and a large variety of plant and animal life. But, as most North Dakotans know, there very few trees. Settlers soon realized unrestricted winds and winter blizzards were not only an irritation, but a constant danger. The state encouraged the development of tree claims as protection against harsh conditions, but these didn’t keep the wind from blowing away precious topsoil from newly plowed fields.

So it was that homesteaders grasped the importance of forestry from the beginning; when North Dakota became a state in 1889, the State Constitution provided for a State School of Forestry. It was among the first in the Nation.

One of the most forested areas of the state was the Turtle Mountains, so it only made sense to locate the school in one of that area’s six counties. Voters from that area held a general election and chose Bottineau to be the site of their future school.

Governor Briggs appointed Ed Swanson, L. D. Dana, and Hans Rothgarn as the school’s first directors, but state money for the project didn’t materialize until the Bottineau Turf Club donated land for the campus, and the people of Bottineau raised $2500 toward a building.

The school was officially founded on this date in 1906, but it wasn’t until August that its 2-story building was ready for occupancy. Under the presidency of J. Allen Kemp, thirty students enrolled for the first term. In the beginning, most classes were at high school level, with forestry and horticulture classes augmented by drama and physical education courses. Governor Burke laid the cornerstone for an additional building the following year, and the facilities quickly expanded to accommodate a student body of over 140.

In 1913, the Legislature passed the Forestry Nursery Act, which established North Dakota’s first State Forestry Nursery – also at Bottineau. This legislation was unique among the Nation’s state forestry departments, because the President of the School of Forestry automatically became the State Forester. In 1915, the school distributed 400,000 tree cuttings and 200,000 seedlings around the state.

On the extracurricular side, Forestry’s first football game was played against Bottineau High School in 1907, resulting in a 15-10 victory over the younger team. The school’s newspaper was called The Forester, which was later changed to The Mountain-ear; in 1927, it was once more renamed, now The Ranger.

It turned out there wasn’t much student interest in forestry course work, and emphasis shifted toward business education. Many legislators questioned the need for the school, and in 1915, Governor Hanna proposed it be changed to an Orphan’s Home. WWI brought a sharp enrollment decline, the nursery was shut down in 1918, and the college was changed to a normal school.

In the 1920s, Governor Nestos vetoed any further appropriations for the school, and it was shut down. Proposals were made to readapt the facility as an extra insane asylum or tuberculosis sanatorium. But, in 1925, Bottineau businessmen went to Bismarck to rally support and were given $66,000 to reopen the school. Classes resumed in the fall with 145 students.

The school held its first official “Lumberjack Day” on this day in 1928, and three years later, also on this date, the school celebrated it’s 25th year by presenting the plays “Johnny Appleseed” and “Paul Bunyan” on the banks of Oak Creek.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

Sources: Historical Highlights of Bottineau County; Bottineau County Historical Society, 1977, Quality Printing Service, Bismarck, ND; History of North Dakota, Elwyn B. Robinson, 1966, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln; Fargo Forum, June 8, 1931