History & Culture

Your National Heritage

Log train crossing the Cowlitz River, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, WA, 1949For more than 6,000 years, people have played a part in the ecology of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The earliest Native Americans hunted in meadows below receding alpine glaciers. As the climate warmed, descendants of these early hunters gathered an abundance of food and other necessities. Familiarity with the Forest's resources allowed larger, more settled populations, and the natives began to manage the landscape for game and other food. One method the natives used was burning areas to increase huckleberry production. Archaeological investigations on the Forest continue to discover new and exciting information about the lives of the first Americans.

The first Europeans to earn their living from the forest were the trappers of the British Hudson's Bay Company who came for the beaver and other fur-bearing animals that abounded on rivers and streams. The first permanent European settlement near what is now the Gifford Pinchot National Forest was Fort Vancouver, founded in 1824. By the 1890's miners and loggers were tapping the forest's wealth. Homesteaders and ranchers moved into the forest to farm the river valleys and graze cattle and sheep in the meadows and prairies. In 1897, the area became part of the Mount Rainier Forest Reserve. The area was reorganized and its name changed several times before 1908, when the Columbia National Forest was established.

Gifford Pinchot, the first Chief of the Forest Service, played a key role in developing the early principles of environmental awareness. Pinchot's philosophy is made clear in his farsighted statement that the forests should be managed for "..the greatest good of the greatest number in the long run." In honor of his leadership, the Columbia National Forest was renamed for Gifford Pinchot in 1949.

Events on the Forest in the twentieth century have been strongly influenced by nationwide developments. Between 1933 and 1942, Civilian Conservation Corps projects were undertaken throughout the Forest as part of the Federal response to the Great Depression. Young men from around the nation were summoned to build trails, roads, and buildings. Many of the facilities we enjoy today are the result of their handiwork. The demands of two World Wars resulted in major efforts to plant, harvest, and protect from fire the abundant timber resource. Population growth and new perspectives have placed further demands on the Forest, not only for timber, but for other values as well, including wildlife, recreation, fisheries, and wilderness.

The Gifford Pinchot National Forest Heritage Program

Heritage resources are locations of past human activity, occupation or use identifiable through field survey, historical documentation, or oral tradition.   The purpose of the Heritage Program is to protect significant heritage resources, to share the values of these resources with the American people, and to contribute relevant information and perspectives to forest management.

To date, 1,596 heritage resource sites have been documented on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest! Examples include: prehistoric archaeological sites such as Layser Cave, historic Native American sites such as the Big Tire Peeled Cedars, and historic structures such as the House Rock Shelter.

A routine part of program activities includes resource surveys in areas slated for projects such as: timber sales, stream bank stabilization, or roadside viewpoint construction. Other aspects of the program include: historical research, collections curation, interpretation, and coordination with tribal groups with traditional ties to the land.

Protected by law:

The forest's heritage is told in objects, sites, and buildings preserved and protected by law. When an artifact is removed or a site damaged, the forest's legacy becomes incomplete, much as a book would be incomplete if words were erased or pages torn out. If you discover a site or object of interest, leave it undisturbed and report your discovery to the nearest Forest Service office.

Help us pass on the history of our national forests to our children and grandchildren by respecting these resources and answer Gifford Pinchot's call to manage our forests for "the long run!" 


Forest History

Billie Webb at Flattop Lookout

The origins of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest are firmly rooted in the great national conservation movement that swept this country at the beginning of the 20th century.

Video Feature: Gifford Pinchot

Gifford Pinchot Bridging Environmental and Labor in the Early 20th Century