"Of prime interest was the release of the foreign tree species and the locust from competition by the less desirable native trees," Frayer wrote. "Results were recorded in minute detail. As viewed now, the work of Max Rothkugel at that time had become a field laboratory for the development of native forestry skills."
Rothkugel's 150-acre experiment was the first commercial tree plantation in West Virginia, and one of the first in the nation.
Not long after leaving his job in Pocahontas County, Rothkugel joined the Forest Service and, by 1911, was working in the Pacific Northwest. There, Rothkugel was known to take month-long solo hikes into the woods, carrying only a knapsack containing a blanket, tarp, 10 pounds of cheese and a generous supply of "long, black, rat-tailed shaped cigars he imported by the thousand from Germany," according to Frayer.
In 1913, Pinchot sent Rothkugel to South America to help several countries establish forestry programs of their own.
When World War I broke out, Rothkugel returned to the United States "because of his Austrian ancestry, which made him unacceptable in the South American countries," Frayer wrote. He settled in New York, where "it was rumored that he established a tango dancing academy."
Rothkugel also became one of the first do-it-yourself dance instruction authors, publishing a work titled, "Dancing Charts for Self-Instruction," which included a fold-out groundsheet marked with footsteps, in 1918.
Today, some Norway spruce in the Rothkugel Plantation tower more than 130 feet over the rocky ground, while many larch exceed 100 feet in height.
A trail passing through the plantation leads to the top of Smoke Camp Knob and the site of a former fire lookout tower. An improved trail with interpretive signs is planned for the site.
The Rothkugel Plantation is part of a 9,965-acre tract that Craig sold to the Forest Service in the 1920s, becoming one of the first parcels of land in the Monongahela National Forest. It is located along W.Va. 28, about two miles east of Durbin and about one-half mile northeast of W.Va. 28's intersection with U.S. 250.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.