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America's Smallest "National Forest" in Adak

Adak Island, located near the furthest tip of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, is one of the southernmost westernmost island of the United States. The high winds, persistently overcast skies, and cold temperatures mean that only the most cold-resistant grasses, mosses and low-lying flowering plants grow here, with the exception of a group of exactly 33 pine trees huddled together at the foot of a small hill. This grove of trees is claimed to be the smallest "National Forest" in the country.

The trees were planted during the Second World War by the US military. The exercise was meant to boost the sagging spirits of the soldiers stationed at this remote outpost, who suffered through the miserable weather of almost constant snow, sleet, rain, fog, and mud. Army General Buckner thought that planting some Christmas trees on the otherwise barren island might cheer up his troops. So he initiated a formal tree planting program from 1943 through 1945.

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Unfortunately, the Aleutian climate was so harsh that the pines didn’t survive. At one point, there was only one tree left standing. Somehow, a few other pine trees managed to grow back and over the course of several years, formed a small grove of severely stunted trees. In the early 1960s, somebody jokingly put up a sign that read: "You are now entering and leaving Adak National Forest".

Whether or not General Buckner’s troops were able to celebrate Christmas around their pine trees is not known, but the fact that the grove was originally planted for Christmas was not lost to the local Aleutians who never forget to decorate the whole “forest” every December. Of course, the federal government doesn’t recognize the grove as a National Forest.

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View from within the “National Forest”. Photo credit

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Sources: Atlas Obscura / Road Trippers

4 comments:

  1. "one of the southernmost island of the United States"?
    Really.

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  2. Amazing, how they can grow there ??

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  3. I was stationed at the NavComSta Adak in 1968-1969. At that time, the trees were only 4 or 5 feet tall. We had dogs there and when they died, they were buried behind the forest. I once asked someone where the trees came from, and was told that the Coast Guard brought them. If that's true, it must have been after all but one of the original trees died.

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  4. In May of 1987 as a Patrol Plane Commander flying the Navy’s P-3C Update III out of Moffett Field, California I was tasked to return the Adak Commanding Officer to his command and to re-populate the Adak National Forest. Evidently just two months prior an unknown number of vandals had chopped all the original trees down - at least that as what we were told. We took off from Moffett Field, stopped in Whidbey Island for four forestry personnel and one thousand Sitka spruce seedlings grown near the summit of Mt. Lassen and continued to Adak. We offloaded the personnel and the trees, spent a couple of days flying area training flights and returned to Moffett. As I never made it back to Adak (other than a brief stopover on the way to a Misawa, Japan deployment) I always wondered if those trees thrived? Can anyone enlighten me?

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