SUMTER NATIONAL FOREST
A lot of history has been made on the lands that comprise the Francis Marion and Sumter National Forests.
Cherokee and other tribes of Native Americans hunted and built villages. Revolutionary War battles were won and lost. Farmers toiled in the fields, and family-owned companies harvested timber. Irish immigrants built railroads and tunnels, while others mined gold.
All before the two national forests in South Carolina were created.
The U.S. Bureau of Forestry-a predecessor of the USDA Forest Service-first sent a field party to evaluate lands in South Carolina in 1901. Then came World War I, and demand for timber skyrocketed. Across the South, deforestation was increasing, and land conditions were deteriorating. By the 1920s, much of what was known as the Southern Pine Belt had been cutover.
In 1928, the National Forest Reservation Commission approved the purchase of two units in South Carolina. It wasn't until the Depression and President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal that the move to create National Forests began in earnest. In July 1936, both the Francis Marion and then the Sumter were officially designated National Forests in separate Presidential proclamations signed within three days of each other.
National forests have been called the lands nobody wanted. In South Carolina, the lands that became the forests were predominantly eroding old farm fields and gullies or extensively cutover forests. The National Forests were created to retire the farmlands, control soil erosion, regulate stream flow, and produce timber. With the early work of Civilian Conservation Corps, the land was slowly restored and became productive again.
Now totaling more than 600,000 acres in this state, these diverse lands are a testimony to the success of responsible land management. Both forests are managed by the USDA Forest Service for many uses, including timber and wood production, watershed protection and improvement, habitat for wildlife and fish species (including threatened and endangered ones), wilderness area management, minerals leasing, and outdoor recreation.
And now, people visit these two forests in South Carolina to hike or ride a trail, paddle, fish, hunt, camp, watch a bird, or have a picnic.
They may even make a little history.