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U.S. Forest Services Celebrates Centennial

The , Forest Service employees who play banjo and fiddle and sing about resource conservation, set the tone for the dozens of displays on the grassy mall in front of the U.S. Capitol.

Participants show off their gear. They represent the firefighters, backcountry rangers, law enforcement officers, wildlife biologists and others who work the 77-million hectares of national forests and grasslands managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

Elizabeth Hawke, a Forest Service landscape curator from Pennsylvania, helped design an interactive forest for the Folklife Festival. She says this winding trail with dozens of trees and shrubs and bushes was no easy feat to construct on the National Mall, considering she wasn't permitted to dig a hole.

"Trucks were rented. Some people drove trucks across country from California to bring the equipment to be able to do it," she says. "I brought a lot of the rotten logs, moss, pinecones and pine needles that I could get in my truck from Pennsylvania (in the drive) down here. And then luckily the Smithsonian got the nurseries to deliver their trees to the mall."

Ms. Hawke says festival visitors love the exhibit. "I think that it turned out great. So far we have had a lot of people coming through here," she says. "We have all sorts of different things. We have paintings done by Forest Service people, depicting what trail work is here in the Forest Service."

For a 360-degree view of the forest -- or in this case the National Mall and surrounding museums -- visitors are welcome to climb stairs into a replica of a 1930s-style fire watchtower. The room at the top has few frills other than a food cooler cabinet, a kitchen table and chair, a bed and a vintage telephone. In the center mounted on a stand is a 1912 fire finder, a detailed map with a center string to pinpoint a smoking fire.

Tower watcher Donna Ashworth says the devise is amazingly accurate. She spent 26 years as a fire lookout, 22 on the same tower. "I have birds and animals, the Forest Radio that has 500 people on it all day," she says. "I read. I write. I have a little keyboard I practice on. It doesn't feel alone." Now retired, Ms. Ashworth says what kept her on the job was the freedom and the view. "I loved it. Soaring above the trees with (views) of 100 miles (160 kilometers), my time was mine to structure," she says, adding, "Some of us stay for years and years."

Solitude is not what attracted Keith Wolferman to the Forest Service. He directs crews of smokejumpers who parachute from airplanes to suppress or to monitor fires. Standing in front of a recreated smokejumper base, alongside parachute gear and packing tables, Mr. Wolferman says his job is a perfect fit. "I really like the folks I work with," he says. "You look up and down a load in the airplane. Everybody is sweating. You are all in this heavy, bulky, sweaty equipment rolling out on a 100-degree (38-degree celsius) day to go on fire and you say (to yourself) that there is nobody on earth that I would rather have with me right now than the people I am looking at."

Mr. Wolferman adds, "Aviation and parachuting are also lifelong passions. And, so (I) have the love of the outdoors and the ability to be outside doing something that you really care about, feeling like you are making a difference, plus doing something that you love."

Visitors are drawn to Camp Foodways by the smell. Foresters here demonstrate how to cook one-pot meals on an open fire using a pot with a wide metal lid called a Dutch oven.

Bill Stafford is a manager of a national forest in Arizona. He is also famous for his Wild Bill Chili. The spicy bean dish has gained a certain amount of fame among Forest Service volunteers who work the more than 480 kilometers of wilderness trails that Bill Stafford supervises. "Thank goodness for these people that are kind enough to maintain these areas, our beautiful national forests, he says. And, you know, it is just one way to give them back a little bit, something. So, we have a good time," he says.

Thousands of people have eaten Wild Bill's Chili, which would have made his father -- a former railroad conductor and who created the recipe -- proud.

Bill Stafford says his colleagues in the Forest Service share his passion for the land. He hopes their exhibits on the Mall help communicate the importance of taking very good care of America's natural heritage.