Celebrating Pioneering Researcher Ken Cordell

Excerpted from article by Susan Fox, Director, Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute

Ken Cordell recently retired after a phenomenally productive 50+ year career in the U.S. Forest Service, most recently as pioneering scientist and project leader with the Forest Service Southern Research Station. His planning assessments and research covered trends and futures of outdoor recreation, demographic and societal shifts, natural amenity migration and natural amenity values, and land planning and values, especially for protected parklands.

Cordell produced five books, the latest, The Multiple Values of Wilderness, a collaborative effort of a multidisciplinary team of authors and researchers to clarify the meaning of different types of wilderness values and to present replicable, science-based evidence of these values to help engage and inform interested members of the general public about the values of their public Wilderness areas.

Until his retirement, Cordell served as the lead scientist for the U.S. National Survey on Recreation and the Environment, a survey begun by the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission in 1960. Cordell authored almost 360 scientific and other technical papers dealing with Americans’ relationships with their natural lands. He is an international authority in his field.

Cordell was born in Asheville, North Carolina, and grew up in the area. As he got older, he cared for 12 laying hens and sold the eggs in the neighborhood. He was responsible for milking the cow before school in the morning and after school. Maybe that’s why he still gets up so early every day! In his teen years, a favorite activity was hiking with friends in the western North Carolina mountains. Cordell’s love of being outside, being in the woods, and creek swimming led him to set his career course for forestry when he was in the 10th grade. He studied in the pre-forestry curriculum at Western Carolina College and then transferred to the forestry program at North Carolina State University (NCSU).

Cordell began work with the Forest Service as a timber marker and timber stand improvement crew member summer hire in 1962. His timber marking work took him to secluded coves and ridge tops in western North Carolina, instilling a love of the backcountry. With degrees from NCSU, including a PhD in Economics and Natural Resources Policy, he began his science career working with the Southeastern Forest Experiment Station in Asheville.

Cordell won the Forest Service national award as Distinguished Scientist of the Year and has received 60 other awards over the course of his career. He is an elected fellow with the Academy of Leisure Sciences and has served on a variety of national and international committees and boards.

For many years Cordell was a member of an elite, national team of scientists responsible for assessing the status and trends in the nation’s forest and rangeland resources. He also served as the lead scientist for the recreation, tourism, and nature values indicators used in the 2010 and now the 2015 Nation’s Report as the U.S. contribution to the international Montreal Process. He has served as a consultant to federal, state and local government agencies, to other countries, and to non-governmental organizations in public and other land planning nationwide.

Cordell also worked with the President’s Council on Physical Health and Sports and with the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Group. He continues to actively work as a citizen scientist on issues such as protection of Jekyll Island and conservation of rural forests and farmlands. In his previous professional affiliation he was a faculty member at NCSU and currently holds adjunct professor status with Western Carolina University, Clemson University, and the University of Georgia.

Cordell received Emeritus Scientist status and will continue his important work on protecting America’s wild lands with the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute.

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