Take a look into an industry that put the mountains of North Carolina on the map over 100 years ago. John Fletcher and his family are bringing it into the 21st century. These trees have been the backbone of American life since pioneering days. They have supplied early settlers with rustic log homes and still supply wood for countless uses; wood products just surround us. You see deciduous trees—the hickory, the oak, the cherry, the walnut, and maple trees changing colors from season to season, and perhaps don’t truly appreciate what an amazing resource they have been to our country for centuries.
[dropcap]J[/dropcap]ohn Fletcher is a native, who comes from a long line of Fletchers from this area—a fifth generation Fletcher. We have all heard of the town of Fletcher, and possibly of Fletcher Fields. Many may know of his distant relative, Maria Beale Fletcher, who became the 1962 Miss America winner. John’s dad, “Sunny,” was in the lumber business with Dixon Lumber Company in Galax, Virginia, and then had his own sawmill, C. F. Fletcher Lumber in Candler. That closed in the early ‘80’s, and Sunny got into construction. After his son, John, graduated from Denison University in Granville, Ohio, in 1992, John met Susan, a Raleigh native, and moved his new bride up to the foot of Mount Pisgah to run a 1955 hand-set Frick sawmill. They committed themselves to living a life close to the land, learning to garden and raise their family. John grew up here, as have his children, Regan and Steven.
Pisgah Hardwood Inc. began in 1993. For seven years, John and his father manufactured high-quality Appalachian hardwood lumber, averaging about 3,000 board feet a day. Most of their specialty, thick-stock boards made their way down to the once-thriving furniture areas of Hickory and High Point. However, a small green sawmill faced greater challenges in competing with bigger producers, forcing John to evolve and adapt his operation more toward forest and land management.
Using the firsthand knowledge acquired in hand-turning every hardwood log at a circle saw to make beautiful boards, John applied his learning toward forest land stewardship. He sought out private property owners to help them devise a forest management plan for their property. He knew that keeping local, sustainable markets open for renewable wood resources was vital for both the short and long term. With the birth of John Steven Fletcher, Jr. in 1996, John began building a customer base that would actively manage their forest lands, keeping the large tracts intact, where Steven could later advise the same client base should he inherit the “wood gene” like the rest of the Fletchers.
With the help of a North Carolina registered forester, Joe Currie of Banner Forest, and Kirkland’s Logging Company, Pisgah Hardwood puts together a plan, which incorporates true scientific forestry methods. To implement the plan they must negotiate a contract with the landowner—a delicate matter. The crew is talented, focused, and knowledgeable. Joe has vast forestry experience, having graduated from Sewanee, followed up with a Masters in Forestry from Virginia Tech. Kirkland’s Logging is a family crew from Bryson City that has been working with Pisgah Hardwood since 2001. According to John, “They are the most dedicated group of individuals I have ever seen. They have never not been on the job by 7:00 a.m., unless the weather was an issue. Kirkland’s Logging handles all our critical forestry jobs and are the best road builders in the field. In fact, we purchased and starting using a John Deere 110D Logging Forwarder way before anyone else dreamed of buying one!” The six-wheeled forwarder causes minimal disturbance during a timber-harvesting job and utilizes one single road access throughout the tract. Many discriminating clients have been amazed at the quality of the jobs with the revolutionizing effect of the log forwarder, and the competence of the crew.
Pisgah Hardwood Corporation is the only full service management company around. Their goal is to decipher what is best suited for the site, what is growing there, and how they are going to enter and treat the land. The company works carefully to develop a plan that allows roads to be suitably built for the site. It is important that the plan allows a land owner to manage his forest sustainably. They keep in mind specific trees suited for harvesting. These must be sorted and counted, before they are taken to market. As Susan Fletcher puts it, “Much like a row of corn, after you have planted a row of seeds, it is important to thin some seedlings to prevent overcrowding and to allow the others to grow and flourish.” In the same way, it is best in a forest to carefully select what needs to be harvested, keeping in sight the overall health of the forest over time. You must be a good steward of the forest, with a long-range plan, as trees take time to mature.
John Fletcher says, “There is no one-size-fits-all plan; we are low impact. With carefully studying, planning and precision, our plan allows land owners to remain involved as owners of the property. We work with their wishes, needs and offer tax advice as well. Our plan allows the owner to keep the forest in timber, while providing significant tax benefits for keeping the land in forest production. It does not “have” to become a housing subdivision to provide income. Perhaps the owner needs a couple of acres to plant crops or to pasture the children’s horses, or perhaps a bridge needs to cross a creek at a specific spot down the way. A land owner may want to achieve a certain goal financially but has a different aesthetic plan in mind. These are not necessarily the same. We work with them on all aspects of the project. We have the equipment and skilled operators that can help with all aspects of forestry.”