Friday, April 1, 2011

Tree Farmer of the Year

Don Heikkila of Harrison was recently recognized as Idaho's Tree Farmer of the Year/ Ralph Bartholdt

For 64 years Don Heikkila has lived on a farm at the edge of a mountain that overlooks Lake Coeur d'Alene.
The farm was homesteaded at the turn of the century and later sold to Heikkila's father. It edges a plateau that towers over the azure waters of the lake and is fondly referred to as the Harrison Flats.
Compared to a pine board, or the plains of Dakota that many early homsteaders to the area left as they came looking for water during the Great Depression, the Flats don't deserve the name.
They wobble, careen and disappear in wooded swales and scrap-rock gullies filled with fir. A northbound traveler on Hwy 97 who breaks from the wooded hills of Peterson Creek doesn't notice this. He or she see only the vast open ground from Indian Mountain, where Heikkila's farm is, to Lamb Peak miles away with nothing in between but rolling hay fields.
The land was cleared a century ago by homesteaders. The pioneers of what then was a high plateau of larch, fir and pine with cedar mixed into the draws, signed on to improve their sections, so they cut trees, pulled stumps and raised wheat.
But, Heikkila says, "The soil is better for growing trees than it is for growing wheat."
The former soil and conservation district board member who served on the state's soil and water commission under three governors, was recently awarded Idaho's most prestigious tree farm award.
Heikkila was named Outstanding Tree Farmer for 2011 at a recent gathering in Moscow.
His trees have always been there, and although he supplements timber harvesting with plantings, the forest is in its original state. His 240-acre wood is a mixed stand of diverse native species of all ages from seedlings to mature ponderosa pines.
Heikkila is one of a handful of old timers - there are some that are older, but not many - with a foothold quietly planted in the soil where he was raised, never having left, or strayed very far in more than six decades.
"Not too many people have lived here longer than 64 years," he says.

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-Ralph Bartholdt

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