Privately-owned Woodland Altars being logged after long debate

June 13, 2009 kidsandnature Parks and LandSpiritual and Religious

(Shared with permission by member Loraine McCosker)


an old forest’s last stand

published by the Arc of Appalachia Preserve System

photos were taken at Woodland Altars over the last six months,
both before & after the cut. Article written on June 11. 2009

Here at the Arc, we usually write stories that are filled with hope. But on rare occasions a tale of rapidly approaching loss needs to be witnessed and shared among our readers. This is the story of Woodland Altars, a 450 acre church camp located in Adams County in southern Ohio. Owned by the Church of the Brethren, for over fifty years the land has served as a church camp, an outdoor education camp, and a spiritual retreat center. Several years ago approximately 100 of the camp’s 350 acres of forest land was set aside as “The Wilderness,” a sanctuary where the church vowed no human creation or manmade disturbance would ever take place. Although not technically primeval, the Wilderness is a majestic forest cathedral, boasting hundreds of towering ancient trees, a well-structured understory, and a rich carpet wildflowers in the spring. Together with its surrounding forests, the Wilderness composes what is possibly the second largest mature
in all of south central Ohio. For many generations of campers, congregation members, and staff, the Wilderness has served as the “altar” in the namesake Woodlands Altars.

Over the last few years two relatively small timber cuts at the camp were authorized by the church’s Southern Ohio District Board, but the Wilderness was not included in them. Then, in November of 2008, the board signed a contract for a deep selective timber harvest on nearly all of the property, including the lands that bordered the camp’s overnight facilities and hiking trails, and even the Wilderness itself. By the terms of the contract, 2482 trees were marked, some of the oaks as large as 59 inches across, promising the church a gross revenue of $501,100.

Last winter, the trees were marked and the logging began. Today, roughly one fifth of harvest has been completed.

On April 1st, 2009, as agreed by contract, the timber cutting operations were temporarily halted, so not to disturb the schoolchildren who visit the camp in spring. As destiny would have it, the cutting stopped just outside the boundaries of the Wilderness, giving concerned church members a time to process what had happened. For many of them, it was the first time they were aware that a major decision had been made regarding Woodland Altars.

At this writing, the Wilderness still stands, but not for long. According to the contract, logging is scheduled to recommence on August 1st, 2009, and the immense old trees of of the Wilderness will soon become part of our economy, turned into furniture, palettes, and other fiber products.

Normally, our non-profit does not get involved in private forest controversies. We were very slow and reluctant to do so in this case. However, when we were encouraged by several congregation members and fellow conservation professionals to seek a financially acceptable alternative to cutting the trees, we lent our time and expertise. Staff visited the site dozens and dozens of times over winter and spring, inventorying the trees and capturing their beauty in pictures. And we spent many hours researching viable options for the church’s consideration. Nevertheless, despite our best efforts, despite the fact that we succeeded in putting together what we thought was a win-win package, in the end we failed to convince the Board.

We are publishing the story today for several reasons. One, we wish these words to serve as a memorial to the majestic towering trees of Woodland Altars, and to the hundreds if not thousands of school children, congregation members, and counselors who have loved the pristine nature of the Wilderness over the years. We write this story because the struggle that took place within the the Church of the Brethren could have just as easily taken place in Anywhere, USA. As such, it is a poignant and sensitive snapshot of our times. We write this story because we hope that by publishing a few of the thousands of photographs we have taken, they will inspire continuing dialogue on the value of old-growth, even after the trees of Woodland Altars come down. We write this story because… we love stories. In the struggle that unfolded within the Church of the Brethren, over the fate of their trees, we’ve witnessed a tremendous amount of poignancy and beauty
an all-too-human story. And lastly, we write, because deep in our hearts, despite the fact that no solution looms in sight, we won’t completely give up hope until the trees come down. In this spirit, this tale is shared…

Please read the story with photos at

Thank you for caring about our native biodiversity and giving us the gift of your time,

Sincerely, Nancy Stranahan and Larry Henry, Directors, Arc of Appalachia Preserve System

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