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Passport in Time volunteers keep historic Savenac Nursery pristine

by MONTE TURNER
Mineral Independent | July 21, 2021 12:00 AM

The Savenac Tree Nursery was one of the largest U.S. Forest Service tree nurseries when it was established in 1907.

It produced roughly 12 million seedlings every year that were used to plant national forests from coast to coast.

It was named for the one-time owner of the land, a German settler named Savennach who abandoned it for unknown reasons.

Elers Koch, the Lolo and Bitterroot National Forest Supervisor, saw potential.

It proved to be an excellent location for a tree nursery on a major road (John Mullan Road, U.S. 10 today) with the Milwaukee Railroad nearby along with ample flat land and access for irrigation with the town of Haugan nearby.

The Great Fire of 1910 decimated the entire compound, but rebuilding began that winter.

Then starting in 1932, the Civilian Conservation Corps renovated the majority of the buildings that are seen today and in 1969, Savenac Nursery shuttered the doors when the reorganization of the forestry department took place.

It was designated as a National Historic Site in July 2000 and today, it is an immaculate area with rental cabins in the summer and operates as a stunning wedding venue or family reunions.

Keeping this treasure in pristine condition comes mostly from volunteers, with the lion's share of help from Passport in Time (PIT).

This is a volunteer cultural heritage resource program initiated by the USFS but now has sponsorship assistance form the Bureau of Land Management, State parks and Historicorps.

"The goal of PIT is to preserve the nation's past historical locations with the help from the public. These folks contribute to maintenance, cleaning, landscaping and some environmental and historical research on the restoration project,” said Sydney ‘Syd’ Bacon, USFS Archeologist.

Bacon was one of the hosts at the 25th anniversary of the Savenac Historic Tree Nursery Reunion on July 16. It was the overview of the weeks' projects the 36 PIT volunteers celebrated with a potluck lunch, laughter and great memories because many have participated for several summers at Savenac.

They come from Florida, Michigan, Ohio, California and retired from different occupations but found PIT and wanted to continue to give-back.

Nick Scheuring came from Deer Park, Washington, and this was his second year.

“Let’s see, I sanded bunk beds and did some drywall work in the men’s bunkhouse,” he said.

When asked how he became involved with Passport In Time, he said, “When I got out of high school I went into the Army. Then to college and became a teacher and school administrator for 30 years all near Huntley Project (Montana). Retired from that and went back to school to become a draftsman which I did for 10 years," Scheuring said. "So not having a connection in my working years with forests or the timber industry, my daughter talked me into it. She’s an archeologist with the Lolo National Forest,” he said with a chuckle.

Superior Ranger Carol Johnson was the first at the podium to thank everyone.

“We’ve calculated that Passport in Time has contributed over 400,000 hours of work here over the last 25 years,” which earned a round of applause from the volunteers with their family and members of the community sitting under the shade tent.

“In today's dollars of $15 an hour, that’s……that’s an awful lot of time and money and there aren’t words enough to thank you for making this historic site so wonderful.”

The volunteers that spent the week working each day wore green T-shirts with the 25th anniversary logo on the back and it was noticeable that they were or had become friends since Sunday.

Among the hard workers were around six teenagers or young adults in their early 20s.

“I came here with my grandmother my first time as it was an Eagle Scout project I was working on. And I haven’t missed a summer at Savenac since," said 24-year-old Missouri resident Devon Gibbs.

Passport In Time volunteers pick up the tab on all of their travel costs. But at Savenac, volunteers receive free hookup for their RV, laundry services and meals.

Kathi Jones "thinks" this is her 15th year.

“One of the reasons we chose Savenac is because they provide meals because who wants to go back to your camper or tent and cook after a long hard day? That’s how we chose this place and that, along with the beautiful scenery has us coming back year after year,” Jones said.

She and her husband drive their RV from Maryland and once this stint is over, they will slowly cruise to California before heading home mid-September.

Superior Ranger Station's Heather Berman was the crew boss for the week. She was tired but still smiling.

“This was a wonderful week and we accomplished so much,” she said. “Most of the buildings were repainted and those that weren’t had the lower five-foot area painted as that’s the part the snow stacks against. Plumbing and electrical wiring and woodworking was done, and the volunteers had fun socializing each evening at the campfire or drinking coffee in the kitchen. Yep, it’s been a good week.”