Fate of Saratoga Tree Nursery unsure
Monday, June 15, 2009
By MARIA McBRIDE BUCCIFERRO
For The Saratogian
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Saratoga Tree Nursery manager David Lee is feeling cautiously optimistic as the nursery’s possible closing date of July 1 looms near.
“It’s gotten very quiet. I was told my higher-ups haven’t heard anything, and they’re not sure what’s happening. They feel that things are looking better for us,” Lee said this week. “They said keep doing what we’re doing until we hear otherwise. We’re still in limbo.”
“Since the governor has come up with an agreement with the unions, it’s to our benefit. Time will tell,” Lee said. “As far as we know as of right now, we’re not closing.”
With a $14 billion state deficit looming, the Department of Environment Conservation announced in April that the state’s sole remaining tree nursery may close as early as July to cut costs.
On June 5, Gov. David Paterson and the state public employees unions announced an agreement to reduce pension benefits for future public employees, saving the state $30 billion over 30 years, though most of the savings won’t be realized for another decade. In return, the governor will shelf his plan to lay off 8,700 state workers.
Whether state officials will keep the nursery opens remains to be seen. “We don’t know if they’ve changed their minds. We haven’t heard anything positive; we haven’t heard anything negative,” Lee said. “We’ll keep running the program as we’ve always run it … until we hear otherwise.”
Lee oversees a staff of 10 full-time and up to 50 seasonal workers. The annual budget is about $750,000. The 1.2 million seedlings grown annually are used by the state for projects, sold to private landowners for conservation plantings, and given away to schools, generating about $250,000 a year in revenue.
He said he only learned recently the story of Col. William F. Fox, the Ballston Spa native who was Superintendent of Forests when the first state nursery was started in 1902. “I never knew that he was one of the founding fathers of the New York state nursery program,” Lee said. “He started what is now the forest rangers and was a leading factor in the creation of nurseries in the state.”
Saratoga Tree Nursery opened in 1911, two years after Fox’s death. A memorial service will be held Tuesday, the 100th anniversary of his death.
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BALLSTON SPA — As the fate of the Saratoga Tree Nursery is threatened, the Civil War soldier who oversaw the creation of the first state nursery as state Superintendent of Forests is being remembered in his hometown.
Born in Ballston Spa on Jan. 11, 1840, Colonel William F. Fox died a century ago, on June 16, 1909, after 24 years of service with the state. A graveside memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Ballston Spa Village Cemetery on Ballston Avenue for Fox, who served as Superintendent of Forests for the Forest, Fish and Game Commission until his death.
“It was through Col. Fox’s foresight and efforts that the forest ranger force was created,” states the invitation from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Division of Forest Protection, which is holding the memorial service in Fox’s honor.
Mayor John Romano and the Ballston Spa Village Board Monday night authorized Chris Morley, Saratoga County history consultant, to represent the village at the ceremony. Morley, who is 88, said he will obtain a G.A.R. marker and flag for Fox’s grave. Fox belonged to Dawson Post No. 63 of the Grand Army of the Republic.
A 1860 graduate in engineering from Union College, Fox served as a lieutenant colonel with the 107th Regiment in the Civil War. “The first regiment organized and sent to the war under the new call from the president for 300,000 volunteers was the 107th,” wrote Thomas Seaman Townsend in “The Honors of the Empire State in the War of the Rebellion,” in 1889. “The regiment fought bravely at Chancellorsville and at the battle of Dallas, Ga. Lieut.-Col. William F. Fox, a gallant officer of the 107th, has, since the close of the war, rendered the country a service by the compilation of an invaluable work entitled ‘The Chances of Being Killed in Battle.’”
Ten years later, in 1898, Fox wrote “Regimental Losses in the American Civil War, 1861-1865,” an authoritative compilation of mortuary losses in the Union regiments. He later wrote three volumes of “New York at Gettysburg,” “Slocum and His Men,” and “A Life of General Green.”
Fox’s family was in the lumbering business. Fox went to Germany to study scientific forestry techniques there, and worked for seven years as a private forester for the Blossburg Coal, Mining, and Railroad Company of Blossburg, Pa., writes Alfred Lee Donaldson in “A History of the Adirondacks.” Fox was appointed assistant secretary to the first Forest Commission in 1885, then served as assistant forest warden, from 1888 to 1891, when he became superintendent of forests upon the creation of the Adirondack Park — “a position which he held, through many political storms and changes, until his death,” Donaldson wrote in 1921.
“He was a sincere lover of the woods and an honest servant of the people. He worked for all that was best in forest methods, but had to face the handicaps of public apathy, changing administrations, and shifting policies. He was from the first an ardent advocate of forest-preserve purchases, and kept urging the state to buy land while the buying was cheap. The beginning of reforestation and the plan of selling trees to private owners — which proved so successful — were of his devising. He had keen foresight and sound judgment in forest matters, and his advice, if more frequently followed, would have often saved the state both money and trouble.”
In 1902, Fox hired the first graduate of the first forestry school in this country — Clifford R. Pettis, who established the first state nursery at Saranac Inn, “and there developed a system of nursery practice which has been adopted by the United States Forest Service and is now taught in all forestry schools,” wrote Donaldson. Pettis was named Superintendent of Forests in 1910, a year after Fox’s death.
The 250-acre Saratoga Tree Nursery has produced 1.6 billion seedlings since it opened in 1911. Once one of at least nine tree nurseries around the state, it is now the only one left, as nursery operations were consolidated to Saratoga in 1972. The tree nursery grows more than 1.2 million seedlings a year for state projects or to sell to private owners, as Fox envisioned, and it gives away more than 32,000 seedlings to state schools.
During the Depression, men and women of the Civilian Conservation Corps planted seedlings from the nurseries throughout the state. With looming state budget deficits in the current recession, the Saratoga Tree Nursery has been threatened with closure to save money. The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors last month passed a resolution in support of keeping the nursery open — a measure Col. Fox would strongly support.
Fox was a strong advocate for planting trees on city streets and along highways. “As in Washington and Paris, every city should establish nurseries supported by municipal appropriations, in which the various species best adapted to street planting can be propagated and grown,” he told the New York Times in June 1900. “Washington is known as one of the most beautiful cities in America on account of the 70,000 trees planted along its streets.”
But it will be his role as the father of the state Forest Rangers that Fox will be especially remembered for Tuesday.
In 1899, he recommended that fire wardens be supplemented with “an adequate force of forest rangers who should be assigned to districts of a suitable area, which should be patrolled constantly and thoroughly…The ranger should be required to live on the township, and a log cabin should be built for that purpose ... He should live in the woods, not in some distant village. During dry seasons, the highways should also be patrolled because more fires start at a roadside than anywhere else.”
Fox’s proposal to hire 35 forest rangers was passed by the New York State Senate, but failed to receive approval by the governor.
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