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Stories from the valley

Institute of Forest Genetics

Contributed by Carl Gwyn

Every year, thousands of visitors head to Apple Hill in Camino for autumn festivities and Christmas trees. Most of these visitors are completely unaware of the unique U.S. Forest Service research facility that sits in the midst of Apple Hill and is known worldwide among botany enthusiasts.

Back in 1925, lumberman James Eddy was concerned about the forests in the U.S. becoming depleted because the trees being cut weren’t being replenished. He had observed that not all pine trees within a particular species behaved the same with regard to growth and resistance to disease and drought. Having been inspired by the work of Luther Burbank, Eddy set out to investigate improving forest trees by the application of genetics.

Eddy was unsuccessful in convincing the U.S. Senate to finance a forest research station, so in 1925 he purchased 65 acres in Camino with his own money and established the Eddy Tree Breeding Institute. In 1932, the name was changed to the Institute of Forest Genetics. The facility was donated to the U.S. Forest Service in 1935.

Today the Institute consists of the Eddy Arboretum, the administration building, and the nursery. The Arboretum, which is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (closed holidays), contains species from around the world, including 78 pines, 24 firs, and many other conifers. The easy half-mile trail through the Arboretum provides visitors with an opportunity to stroll through a one-of-a-kind forest.

When visiting, you must first check in at the administration office, which is a beautiful building built in 1936-1938 by the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places. The display case in the office contains many historic artifacts from the history of the Institute.

Because the site is a working research facility, special permission must be obtained to enter the rest of the grounds. Requests can be made in advance for tours of the facility for schools and other groups. A more complete description of the work that is currently being done and has been accomplished in the past at this facility is beyond the scope of this article, but you can find out more by visiting the institute’s website here.

I have enjoyed visiting this historic spot located at 2480 Carson Rd, Placerville, many times and recommend the Institute of Forest Genetics to those interested in learning more about native trees as well as those from other parts of the world. There are picnic tables and benches where one can relax and enjoy this unique place.