Seeking The Greatest Good

September 19, 2012
The Sycamore Pinchot is located right next to Route 185 and the Farmington River in Simsbury.

The Sycamore Pinchot is located right next to Route 185 and the Farmington River in Simsbury.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to take part in an informative event celebrating the life of Gifford Pinchot. Regarded by many as the father of the conservation movement, Pinchot’s life journey began in our community nearly a century and a half ago. While many of us are familiar with the massive Pinchot Sycamore tree in Simsbury, I thought it would be interesting to share the story of his life in this week’s column. The event celebrated his legacy with the release of a new documentary.

Born in Simsbury in 1865, Pinchot was best known for his advocacy of the sustainable use of natural resources. Growing up with an interest in nature, Pinchot graduated from Yale University and went to France where he studied forestry. Returning home, Pinchot took part in the movement to develop a new national policy for conserving our forests.

As a close friend of President Theodore Roosevelt, Pinchot was appointed the first Chief of the U.S. Forest Service from 1905 to 1910. In fact, President Roosevelt spoke highly of his service, saying “Among the many, many public officials who under my administration rendered literally invaluable service to the people of the United States, Gifford Pinchot on the whole, stood first.”

During his tenure, over 200 million acres of national forest were preserved for future use. A decade later, Pinchot was elected as the governor of Pennsylvania, serving from 1923 to 1927 and then again from 1931 to 1935. Passing away at the age of 81 in 1946, Pinchot has long been remembered for this important legacy.

Driving down Route 185 in Simsbury, you have likely also seen the massive tree that bears Pinchot’s name. Situated next to the Farmington River, the Pinchot Sycamore is the largest tree in the state of Connecticut. On the centennial of Pinchot’s birth in 1965, the tree was dedicated in his name. Estimated at between 200 and 300 years old, the Pinchot Sycamore stands at an impressive 95 feet tall. Believe it or not, the trunk itself is over 26 feet in diameter.

On Thursday, September 6th, the Simsbury Main Street Partnership hosted an event featuring the world premiere of a new Public Broadcasting System (PBS) documentary film called “Seeking the Greatest Good: The Conservation Legacy of Gifford Pinchot.” Held at The Riverview, the event included a presentation by Tom Tidwell, the current Chief of the U.S. Forest Service. Proceeds benefitted several local organizations, including the Simsbury Free Library, Simsbury Land Trust, Simsbury Main Street Partnership and the Pinchot Sycamore Preservation Fund.

The documentary was released to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Pinchot Institute for Conservation, an internationally-recognized conservation organization located in Washington, D.C. The Institute also helps maintain and operate the Grey Towers National Historic Site in Milford, Pennsylvania, where Pinchot also lived. Its mission is to “strengthen forest conservation thought, policy, and action by developing innovative, practical, and broadly-supported solutions to conservation challenges and opportunities.” If you would like to learn more about their work, please visit the Institute’s website at

Overall, I was honored to have been a part of the event. It was refreshing to reflect on such an inspirational figure who came from our community. After leaving our state, he served in the highest levels of the federal government and helped protect millions of acres of forests that can now be used and enjoyed by countless generations. To learn more about this event and the Simsbury Main Street Partnership, please visit their website at

Sen. Witkos ( represents the 8th Senate District, including the communities of Avon, Barkhamsted, Canton, Colebrook, Granby, Hartland, Harwinton, New Hartford, Norfolk, Simsbury and Torrington. He can be reached by phone at 1-800-842-1421 or by email at [email protected].