Just a couple of weeks ago members of the Rim of the World Interpretive Association (ROWIA), friends of the organization, U.S. Forest Service representatives and family members of one of the founders of the Heaps Peak Arboretum to commemorate the 30th year of the longtime trail and nature center that is located between Lake Arrowhead and Skyforest.
Although he died several years ago the name “George Hesemann” was mentioned over and over again because he was the volunteer caretaker of the property for many, many years and is known as the founder of the arboretum. Throughout the years he donated probably several thousand hours to keeping the trail in good condition, greeting visitors to the site, dealing with an occasional unruly visitor, being a volunteer “tour guide” and gardener.
Several members of the public attended the event as did representatives from the U.S. Forest Service and family members attended and we all shared a little bit about experiences with George and/or experiences at the Arboretum itself. The weather was great…..not too hot but not cold at all. It was “George Weather.”
Over and over again people talked about George. He was definitely the “mover and shaker” for the start of the Arboretum and its continued existence.
It was great to see his daughter at the event as well as several representatives from the U.S. Forest Service. They too, talked about George and the creation of this special place where hikers and those who just take a leisurely walk can walk a trail that is maintained by members of the Rim of the World Interpretive Association.
According to the interpretive association’s website the area has a wonderful, interesting, old history (as many of the sites around these local mountains have). The arboretum rests just above the site where pioneer Fred Heaps established a ranch in the late 1800s. After his death, the ranch fell into the hands of his nephew and it later became a lumber harvesting operation.
In 1922, fire devastated the site, leaving only remnants of blackened trees. Six years later, the Lake Arrowhead Women’s Club, headed by Mary Putnam Henck, organized the first planing of the new trees. club members and students from Lake Arrowhead elementary School assisted in the project. By 1931 the site was officially renamed the Heaps Peak Reforestation Project. For the next decade members of the Lake Arrowhead Women’s Club faithfully continued the planting effort but all planting activity halted with the outbreak of World War II.
Fire again ravaged the area in 1956. Fortunately most of the trees survived, however, the U.S.Forest Service and the community had abandoned the care of the site. By 1982, the area had become an illegal dumping ground. Vehicles traveling the site destroyed sensitive root species and they eroded the soil. Toxins from household wastes spilled into the ground and rusting refrigerators marred the landscape.
That’s when George, who was disturbed by the sight at the site, decided to save the area. He secured permission from the Forest Service to manage the site and on August 10, 1982 volunteers began cleaning the area and creating trails. Only four trees were removed to create the trails and the largest was only six inches in diameter. One hundred seventy-five new trees were planted. volunteers installed barbed wire around the perimeter to prevent trespassing and vandalism and they placed concrete posts in the front to block vehicle access and to discourage dumping. Cedars were planted in the old dirt roadways to help nature reclaim the routes.
So, if you’ve read this story to the end you can see how one person, one determined person, can make a huge change in the world. George Hesemann was one of those people. During the recent dedication I know people felt his presence as we swapped stories about George and the creation and the ongoing efforts at this very special spot in the San Bernardino Mountains. By the way, if you saw a lot of cars parked by the Arboretum on that day that was us………..celebrating a man with a mission. Was he an astronaut? No! Was he, in some ways a visionary? Absolutely and everyone who visits the arboretum may not know the history but they do enjoy their stay.
They can thank George, the U.S. Forest Service and the ongoing members of the Rim of the World Interpretive Association who donate their time to maintain the site and who make sure it remains the special place it has been for literally decades.