Digging up Past Connections at Bent Creek

SCEP employee reveals network of walkways at historic site

Linda Bentz kneeling on one of the flagstone walkways she uncovered, one of a web of walkways that connect the buildings on the historic campus of the Bent Creek Experimental Forest. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.
Linda Benz kneeling on one of the flagstone walkways she uncovered, one of a web of stone paths that connect the buildings on the historic campus of the Bent Creek Experimental Forest. Photo by USFS.

A rock protruding through the grass in the lawn at the Bent Creek Experimental Forest was the beginning of a part time, amateur archaeology “dig” for Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) employee, Linda Benz.

It is well known that rocks and whirling lawn mower blades are a bad combination, so when Linda noticed an exposed rock while mowing the grass she decided to do some digging to expose the high spot. Linda discovered that the rock was the corner of a large, flat stone that was covered with a thin layer of soil and grass.

This discovery led to a voluntary project to restore a little part of the original architectural context/landscape to the historic site. Linda found that the stone she uncovered was touching another flat grass-covered stone, which was next to – well, you get the picture.

With a bit of exploratory probing Linda soon found a web of flagstone paths connecting the dispersed, small office buildings around a central “quadrangle” that houses the headquarters research staff of the SRS Upland Hardwood Ecology & Management research unit.

The historic Bent Creek Experimental Forest office site was formally established in April 1931, as part of the Appalachian Forest Experiment Station, and is the oldest Forest Service field research facility in the East. The administrative site of 20 acres and 13 buildings was entered on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) in 1993.

The official NRHP description mentions the stone paths as a significant architectural feature of the site. Flagstone walkways with wide spaces between the flags were laid out in the 1930s. The area within the 1931 loop road is crisscrossed with these walkways.

Unaware of the historic nature of the walkways, Linda liked their natural appearance and thought the exposed flagstone walk added something interesting to the rustic setting of the original campus area. She continued to uncover the paths one flagstone at a time and gradually restored much of the original appearance of the central “quadrangle” of the administrative site back to a time in the 1930s when walkways were not made of concrete.

Linda learned of the SCSEP program from her daughter Brandy, who joined Bent Creek as a volunteer in 2012, and is currently a summer temporary forest technician. Linda was a professional house painter before she enrolled in the SCSEP in early 2013, and worked at Bent Creek until late 2014. Although she no longer works there, she comes to mind each time the staff crosses the campus using the enduring flagstone paths.

The SCSEP is a Department of Labor employment program for low income persons over the age of 55. The research unit at Bent Creek has benefited from the program by being able to use funds typically spent on lawn care and maintenance for research purposes.

For more information, email Henry McNab at hmcnab@fs.fed.us.

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