Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about trees. I do that sometimes. What triggered it this time was a trip to the track behind the Eureka Springs Elementary School. A man stopped me to ask if I had ever seen a chinquapin tree. To be honest, I couldn’t remember if I’d ever seen one or not, but I’ve heard about them all my life. The man showed me one growing in the edge of the woods that skirt the track’s parking lot. He gave me details about the once ubiquitous Ozark Chinquapins and how they were wiped out by blight, similar to what happened to chestnut trees. This led me to thinking about trees and the local forest.
Trees have always been important to the western side of Carroll County. I believe that the beauty of our forested hills still help bring in tourists and the cutting of firewood and sawmilling still employ several on a part-time basis. Once upon a time though, this area was part of the largest white oak forest in the world. For decades, millions of trees were cut for stave bolts (for barrel making) and for railroad ties.
The 1870 Federal Census was the last census taken before the founding of Eureka Springs and the tourism industry that we now take for granted. Timber was king. If you skim down the occupations listed for the approximately 1,200 locals on this side of the Kings River, you’ll see many lumber jobs and ancillary occupations such as blacksmiths, teamsters, and farriers.
All of this thinking of trees led to the memory of a conversation I had with a lady in town years ago. She asked how I could be a tree hugger when my family had cleared more trees than any other family in the history of Eureka Springs. I don’t think that she was correct on either point, but I do like trees. There is a good reason why I don’t live out on the treeless plains or tundra. But, as much as I am fascinated by trees, I still burn them in the woodstove every winter.