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virgin pine postcard

Postcard from the Boston Public Library.

On a recent float trip, I drove down Highway 19 south of Salem, through the 41 acres known as Missouri’s Virgin Pine Forest. I remember being taken here as a kid, not really understanding what “virgin forest” meant—to me they just looked like regular pine trees.

Since then, I’ve visited the forest several times. There’s a two-mile drive that departs from the highway, passes through the grove, and goes a little way into the Pioneer Forest, the owner of the Virgin Pine Forest. (The highway is paved now, unlike in that historic postcard, although it still has the same stomach-wrenching twists and turns.)

For a time I doubted whether the forest had really remained uncut all these years; it’s not inaccessible, and it is located in the heart of timber country which was utterly decimated by pine loggers in the late 1880s. But this pamphlet from the L-A-D Foundation, which owns and manages the Pioneer Forest along with a lot of other Ozark land, cites research showing that some of the trees indeed predate the logging era, so I guess I’ll have to quiet my doubt, although the pamphlet is carefully worded. You’ll see considerable debate online as to whether the preservation of some old-growth trees means that the tract is truly “virgin,” i.e., uncut. It’s clear that a lot of the trees in the tract are recent growth, so I suppose it depends on what you mean by the word “virgin.” Never touched by human hands? No way. Having some trees that escaped the logging era? Looks like it.

I’d still like to know how those trees escaped the timber cutters. As far as I’m aware, the only other “virgin timber” in the state dating back to the 1700s is in cemeteries, private home lots, and other such areas where commercial lumbering was not possible.

Photo from alltrails.com