Floyd Chapman & Picnic Point in the Shawnee State Forest

Recently, one of my readers gave me a hard time for not regularly posting my latest research here on Lower Scioto Blog.   I tried to explain that this is an “occasional blog,” one that is only occasionally updated and suggested that he subscribe to the blog and that way he would receive an e-mail whenever I posted something new.  I appreciated his prodding and, thus, in the interest of satisfying popular demand, what follows is a sneak-peak at some of the material I will be presenting at an upcoming conference.   ~ ALF

View from Shawnee State Forest's Picnic Point, Looking East (10 March 2012). From this vantage point one can see the schools of Portsmouth West on the bottomlands of the Ohio River, the hills of Kentucky, and the City of Portsmouth with its Perkins and U.S. Grant bridges. Photo Credit: Andrew Lee Feight

A couple weeks ago I came across the trail of Dr. Floyd Chapman, a now-deceased Field Ecologist with the Ohio Division of Conservation.  In preparation for my upcoming talk at the annual meeting of the Environmental Educators Council of Ohio I’d been rooting around in the historical records of Shawnee State Forest and it’s predecessor, the Roosevelt Game Preserve.  A reference to Chapman’s 1938 Ohio State University dissertation surfaced while browsing in an old annual report of the Ohio Academy of Sciences.  There, in the “Report of the Committee on Conservation,”  dated April 13th, 1939, the section entitled, “The Southern Ohio Wildlife Sanctuary and Demonstration Project” caught my attention.  The Committee reported:

“Major research studies involving wildlife land-use; forestry-wildlife relationships; wildlife harvest methods; life history, ecology, and management of the Whitetailed Deer, Ruffed Grouse, and Gray Squirrel; and surveys of the wildlife food, cover, and water resources were brought to a close in September, 1938, when the investigator, Floyd B. Chapman, was awarded a Doctor’s degree in Wildlife Conservation at the Ohio State University. The subject of the dissertation was ‘The Development and Utilization of the Wildlife Resources of Unglaciated Ohio.’”

The Committee then noted that the Division of Conservation’s sanctuary program was set to dramatically expand in 1939, when additional lands were to be set aside in other state forests and in the new Wayne National Forest.  Implementation of this enlarged program would be supervised from Chillicothe by the newly minted Dr. Floyd Chapman.  The Committee noted with approval that “The major objective [of Dr. Chapman] during the next few years will be to put into effect the wildlife management and other recommendations incorporated in the preliminary research report.”

With Floyd Chapman's massive dissertation, "The Development and Utilization of the Wildlife Resources of Unglaciated Ohio," in hand. Photo credit goes to my seven-year-old son, Henry Ulysses Feight, who took this picture while the two of us were visiting Shawnee State Forest's Picnic Point (5 April 2012).

I made my OhioLink request for the dissertation almost immediately via my satellite internet  connection on Turkey Creek, with some expectation that I’d just found a significant new source of material for my research into the impact of American settlement on the region’s flora and fauna.  When I picked up the dissertation at the circulation counter of Shawnee State University’s library, the first impression of the dissertation was simple awe, due to its physical size.  It looks like an old family bible, but perhaps even thicker.  Next, upon opening its pages, one is immediately surprised by its hundreds of maps, charts, and original photographs, glued onto the type-written pages.  It is beautiful and no digital image or e-book will ever do it justice.  This was a work of love and the people of the Scioto and Ohio valleys owe a huge debt to Floyd Chapman and all those who helped him complete his research.

For our purposes, today, I want to focus on Chapman’s introduction to his subject, which included a brief history of the impact of American settlement on the ecology of the larger region, which became home to Shawnee State Forest.  Here Chapman is worth quoting at length:

“The history of the land in that region is one that the people of Ohio cannot be proud of.  After colonization began in 1788, came an era of exploitation of the natural resources — cutting, burning, mining — destroying without restoring — reducing a priceless heritage to bare soil, muddy streams and blackened stumps.  Game disappeared, the big game first, then the valuable fur-bearers, non-game birds and mammals.  Streams carried a scum of dead fish, aquatic habitats were ruined by mine acids, stream bottoms became buried with silt, whole stream systems were converted into open sewers, and streams and ponds were covered with crude oil in misguided attempts to control mosquitos.  The inevitable result of this abuse was the depletion of the wildlife resources of the region.  What a heritage for succeeding generations!  After the protective vegetation was removed, there was a long period of further land abuse in which millions of tons of soil and humus were washed away, or consumed in burning operations.  Natural low water tables were reduced still further, until today, in Southwestern Scioto County, a valley well must be drilled to a depth of 100 feet or more before a suitable flow occurs.  Even then the water may be brackish and unfit to drink.”

In his “History of Land Use of Unglaciated Ohio,” Chapman explains the rapid extirpation of the large fauna of the region as the direct result of the destruction of the Old Forest.  “Since the main arteries of travel were the waterways,” writes Chapman, “the first settlements were located along the larger streams.  Clearing of the land for villages and farms was a slow process, but it was begun in so many places in central and southeastern Ohio at about the same time, that the effects were immediately felt by elk and buffalo, which became extirpated very early after settlement began.  Chapman points out that “land abandonment was underway in parts of southeastern Ohio before the fertile flat lands of northwestern Ohio had been settled,” and indicates that much of the forest was cut down for the old charcoal iron furnaces, as well as for props in the coal mines and for the bark used by area tanneries.  “In most cases, however,” he noted, “timber was merely cut or burned down to get it out of the way.  Forest fires were often purposefully set, and whole townships were burned over.”

Chapman continues his narrative of destruction by pointing out how quickly the original settlers and land owners came to abandon the lands of what would become Shawnee State Forest.  “Soil and water abuse did not continue long,” explains Chapman, “before it became impossible to make a living on the steep hillside farms.  Land owners rented their land to tenant farmers, who, in most cases, did not manage the lands as well as the original occupants.  The tenants moved away to the cities.  Then followed land abandonment.  Tax delinquency became exceedingly high, and this resulted in the curtailment of certain government functions such as roads and school maintenance.”

In Chapman’s history, an important turning point in the region’s natural history came with development of state funded and coordinated efforts at wildlife management and land conservation in the early 1920s.  These state efforts were greatly augmented in the 1930s thanks to the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps that allowed for large-scale experimental wildlife and forest restoration projects, such as those in the newly created Shawnee State Forest, which Chapman, of course, had just finished studying.  “Soon after the land planning program was begun in Ohio,” he explains, “the State Division of Forestry began to carry out some of its program by purchasing several thousand acres of submarginal lands for State Forests.  Other sites were subsequently purchased for forest parks.  Only a good beginning was made by that Division, however, as it has consistently been starved for funds.  However, through rigid economy, the Division of Forestry has been able, since 1920, to purchase nearly 60,000 acres for forestry and recreation purposes.”

African-American Civilian Conservation Corps workers constructing a concrete deer lick, which was meant to attract and retain whitetailed deer in the newly created Shawnee State Forest. The original photo and type-written caption by Floyd Chapman comes from his dissertation, which earned him a Ph.D. in Wildlife Conservation from The Ohio State University in 1938.

Chapman first took up residence at the Roosevelt Game Preserve on June 20, 1935.  At the time, the Shawnee State Forest and Roosevelt Game Preserve (combined) consisted of 43,000 acres (out of a total of 55,000 owned by the state).  By the 1930s, the New Forest had established itself.  Chapman notes that “for the most part, the areas are heavily timbered with second-growth (averaging about 30-40 years of age) oak-hickory, oak-chestnut, oak-pine and mixed mesophytic forests. The private lands surrounding and lying within the public forest are also largely wooded, because of the steep slopes, narrow ridges and valleys which prohibit profitable agricultural use.”  The CCC was in full swing when Chapman conducted his research and their road construction projects would open the forest to tourism, recreation, and hunting.  Chapman noted:

“The program of the CCC on all of these tracts has resulted in construction of more than 100 miles of forest truck trails in Scioto County and more than 50 miles in Ross and Pike Counties, making former wilderness areas now readily accessible.”

The relief work programs of the New Deal dramatically changed the region and undoubtedly helped ensure that the earlier state sponsored efforts at wildlife and soil conservation would continue, however inadequate funding has been before the 1930s or since, over the last 75 years.

A survey of the infrastructure improvements of the 1930s, however, suggests that it is time to reinvest in our State Parks and Forests.  The vision of large scale efforts at forest management and wildlife restoration documented and endorsed in the writings of Dr. Chapman have yet to be fully implemented and many of the improvements that were made in the 20th century are now in disrepair.  It is true that much of the extirpated mammal species have returned (the whitetailed deer, the black bear, and, according to some eye-witness accounts, the gray wolf) but their populations, excepting the deer, are still struggling.  Management of the forest, while in good hands today, remains undoubtedly underfunded.

Chapman's original photo of Picnic Point from 1938, with type-written caption. Images of Picnic Point commonly appeared on pamphlets and maps to promote early twentieth-century tourism in the Scioto Valley. With the view of Portsmouth washed-out in the background, Chapman's photo draws our attention to the new stone grills and picnic tables at the Point, which the New Deal's Civilian Conservation Corps had only recently constructed.

Shawnee State Forest's Picnic Point in April 2012, taken from the same perspective as Floyd Chapman's 1938 photograph. Note the missing stone grill and picnic tables. The concrete and stone base of the old grill is still visible, but overgrown brush on the ridge top obscures the view of Portsmouth, Ohio, in the distance. Photo by Andrew Lee Feight (5 April 2012).

All one has to do is visit Picnic Point, the most easily accessible and dramatic scenic overlook found in the Shawnee State Forest, to see how we have failed to maintain the improvements made in the 1930s.

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About Andrew Lee Feight, Ph.D.

Andrew Feight is an American historian, professor, and photographer. A native of Sandy Springs, Georgia, he graduated from Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, and completed his graduate studies in history at the University of Kentucky, receiving his Ph.D. in 2001. Feight is the Developer and Editor of Scioto Historical, a digital history project for documenting and touring the history of southern Ohio. He is a Professor of American History in the Social Science Department of Shawnee State University, where he also serves as the Coordinator of the History Major.
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One Response to Floyd Chapman & Picnic Point in the Shawnee State Forest

  1. Julie Knox-Birkhimer says:

    Hi, I live in Waverly and you may want to get in touch with our local historian, Jim Henry. He knows much about our local history and has many photos and stories. I am currently photodocumenting the restoration of the Jone’s-Cutler home in Jasper, Ohio. One of my husband’s policyholders recently purchased the home and has it down to the bare stones at this time. The house was built in 1830 by Samuel Cutler near the Ohio-Erie Canal and has sat unattended for many years. My husband’s family were born and raised in Jasper in Pike County so I’ve really taken an interest to the history around here recently. The Samuel Cutler House is on the National Registry of Historical homes as it was a Greek Revival style construction. Anyway, I’m glad to see the website you are building. I just took photos of Lock 48 yesterday on our way down to Kentucky to visit some friends! I look forward to following your blog and the Scioto Historical website!

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