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History

Daughter of Maryland’s First State Forester to Celebrate 100th Birthday
Officiating at the Maryland State Forest & Park Service
Centennial Time Capsule Ceremony

On July 31, 2007, Helen “Holly” Besley Overington, daughter of Maryland’s legendary first State Forester, Fred W. Besley, will celebrate her 100th birthday by officiating at the Maryland State Forest & Park Service Centennial Time Capsule Ceremony. Holly will throw the first ceremonial hand-full of dirt to help bury the Time Capsule at Gambrill State Park, just outside of Frederick.

Francis Zumbrun portraying Fred W. Besley and Helen Overington Besley

Hiking and birdwatching in Allegheny State Park, New York in 1936.


The time capsule will contain the following message:

Burial of the Centennial time capsule was deferred to July 31, 2007, to coincide with the 100th birthday of Helen (“Holly”) Besley Overington, the surviving child of Maryland’s first State Forester, Fred Wilson Besley. Mrs. Overington was born in the year that her father recorded the deed for the first public forest land in Maryland. Since her wonderful life spanned all but the first few months of forestry and parks’ first century, it seemed appropriate to mark her Centennial with burial of the Maryland Forestry and Parks Centennial time capsule.

The Maryland Forestry and Parks Centennial is a year-long celebration of our public forest and park lands, recognizing the accomplishments and milestones made over the past one hundred years. The Centennial Celebration gives Marylanders an opportunity to think about future generations and how our environmental stewardship will benefit them.

Helen & her sister camping at patapsco Forest Reserve, 1921 Ms. Overington and other descendants of Fred W. Besley participated in several State Forest & Park Service Centennial events throughout the past year, adding their personnel touch to the history of the Maryland State Forest & Park Service. The Forest Service originated in April 1906 when Besley was named Maryland’s first State Forester. He was one of only three state foresters in the country at the time.

In the early 1890s, Gifford Pinchot had become the nation's first practicing forester. In 1898, he began his 12-year career as chief of what became the U.S. Forest Service. In 1900, he founded the Yale School of Forestry and the Society of American Foresters.

Pinchot told Besley he ought to go into forestry. Besley later recalled this defining moment of the time they first met, “Pinchot was so boiling over with enthusiasm about forestry that then and there I adopted forestry as my career.”

Mrs. Overington recalls, “Gifford Pinchot was trying to get forestry more active in the states. Pinchot was my father's mentor."

Skiing at New German, 1941 - Helen behind car Besley served as State Forester for 36 years under seven of Maryland’s Governors, retiring on February 16, 1942. He still holds the national record for the longest continuous service of a State Forester (1906-1942). Fred Besley was an early environmental educator and his presentations included topics about roadside tree care, forest pests and diseases, and dendrology (tree identification).

Her father took Holly and his other children all around the State of Maryland as he performed his duties as State Forester; thus she is an eyewitness to the very beginnings of forest conservation in Maryland.

Mrs. Overington visited big trees located on lands throughout the state, as her father inventoried Maryland’s Big Trees, launching the first State Big Tree Champion contest in 1925, which was later modeled throughout the nation. In the first state-wide Maryland Big Tree Champion Contest of 1925, Besley noted that 450 entries were received. Besley acted as “umpire in measuring those [trees that] appeared to be competitors in the prize winning class.”

She camped with the family at the Patapsco Reserve, which later became Maryland’s first State Park, and remembers how difficult it was to carry camp supplies up the hillside trail to the Besley Campground. “People didn't know much about outdoor recreation then”, remarks Mrs. Overington. ”Father made his family camp at Patapsco on weekends at the Orange Grove camp.  It was a way to show the urban population what outdoor recreation was like.”

Helen (far right) picnicing in Vermont

1940 with MD Mountain Club at Catoctin - Helen is 1st on left Biking in New England in 1938 (Helen is 1st on left)

In addition to Mrs. Overington’s impeccable memory regarding the early years of the conservation movement in Maryland, she was an avid outdoors woman in her own right, camping, hiking and bicycling for most of her life. An adventurer throughout her life, Mrs. Overington holds the record as the oldest person to take the fast-moving “zip line” at Antietam Recreation, in 1989 at the age of 82.

1939 Helen is 4th from left with Mountain Club of MD /Mt Katahdin Trip

Daughter Betty Knupp, Helen Overington and Sister Jean Rodgers getting ready for a trip to the family forest in mosquito infested Dorchester County.
1986- Swimming with grandchildren at Antietam Recreation 1989- Bike riding with grandchildren along the C & O Canal

Mrs. Overington, of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, was born July 31, 1907 in Washington, D.C.  She graduated from Goucher College in 1928 with a degree in biology. She received her master’s degree in genetics and cytology from Cornell University in 1930.   After teaching biology and general science for 12 years in New York and Maryland, she married noted ornithologist, Robert Bruce Overington, in 1943.  She is Director Emeritus of Besley Rodgers, Inc., a family timber corporation.


Acknowledgements:
Francis "Champ" Zumbrun, manager of Green Ridge State Forest, and Peggy Weller, daughter of Helen Besley Overington assisted in the development of this article as well as with supplying family photographs.

Photo Captions:

  • Helen Besley Overington with Green Ridge State Forest Manager Champ Zumbrun (dressed as Fred W. Besley) in Green Ridge State Forest, 2006.

  • Helen Overington celebrates her 82nd Birthday on the Antietam Recreation "zip line" in 1989.  How will she top that on her 100th?

  • Hiking and bird watching in Allegheny State Park, New York in 1936.

  • Helen Besley Overington and her sister camping at Patapsco State Forest Reserve (1921)

  • Helen Besley Overington skiing in Western Maryland 1941 (The lady behind the car)

  • Helen Besley Overington (far right) picnicking in Vermont

  • 1940 with MD Mountain Club at Catoctin - Helen is 1st on left

  • Biking in New England in 1938 (Helen is 1st on left)

  • Helen Besley Overington (4th from left) Mountain Club of MD /Mt Katahdin Trip, 1939

  • Betty Knupp (daughter), Helen Overington (center) and sister Jean Rodgers getting ready for a trip to the family forest in mosquito infested Dorchester County.

  • Helen Besley Overington (seated) is celebrating Centennial Plaque at site of first Besley family campground in Patapsco Valley State Forest, 2006

  • Helen Besley Overington seated on diving board. Photo taken in1986 while she was swimming with grandchildren at Antietam Recreation.

  • Helen Besley Overington Bike riding with grandchildren along the C & O Canal (1989)

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