Living A Dream
Arlyn and Marial Perkey are recipients of the 2017 Tree Farmer of the Year award for their stewardship of a 77.5 acre property located along Claylick Run in Greene County. The Perkey Tree Farm in Rutan, Pennsylvania includes 62 wooded acres that are enrolled in the tree farm program. The remaining 15.5 acres are planted with warm season grasses and forbs with ribbons of savannah and shrubs along a meandering stream.
For Arlyn, owning this property is a childhood dream come true. Arlyn grew up in central Iowa where his parents worked very hard on two farms; land they rented but were never able to own. Although this lack of ownership never seemed to bother his parents, Arlyn felt that the rights of ownership created a stronger, more complete connection to the land. Time spent in the woods along the Des Moines River nurtured his desire to own forest land.
In high school, Arlyn’s intense interest in the natural world blossomed into a land conservation ethic and a desire to study forestry at Iowa State University. After graduation in 1968 he began working with the U.S. Forest Service, but his fledgling career was interrupted by a call from Uncle Sam to serve in the jungles and former Michelin rubber plantations in Vietnam. Wounded in combat, Arlyn was discharged from the army with a modest pension and soon resumed work with the Forest Service in the Eastern Hardwood Forest.
Arlyn committed half of that pension to achieve the goal of acquiring his own land. In 1990, after approximately 20 years of saving and investing, the Iowa farm-boy’s dream became reality. Situated on the site of a 1950s dairy farm, Perkey Tree Farm reflects Arlyn’s many years in the woods. Claylick Run is similar in size to Prairie Creek that passed through one of the farms his parents rented. Like the silver maple, elm and walnut that grew along the Des Moines River, walnut flourishes on the bottomland along Claylick. The oak and hickory on the former Claylick dairy farm pastureland reminded him of the oak-hickory savannahs that were converted to intensely grazed livestock pastures of Iowa. Sugar maple on the north-facing slopes and white pine on the west facing slope remind him of his time in New England. A small red pine planting is like a trip back his to his work in northern Minnesota.
For over 27 years Arlyn and Marial have worked tirelessly to achieve their timber, wildlife and aesthetic goals. From the outset, increasing the volume of high value hardwoods has been a priority. Federal cost-share incentives administered by the state and implemented by Arlyn were used to accomplish pre-commercial investments. Meticulous monitoring of tree growth provides a record of progress towards this goal as well as guidance on treatments needed for a well-managed and maintained tree farm.
Hands-on management increased after Arlyn’s retirement in 2002. In addition to his never-ending battle with invasive species, Arlyn is at work with his chainsaw and farm tractor whenever timber is cut. With help from a rented, portable sawmill and operator, logs were sawed and the boards kiln-dried, planed, and crafted into cabinetry and furniture for Arlyn and Marial’s house. They relish seeing their trees in the woods, but also enjoy the beauty of finished wood in their home.
Since the formation of Southwestern Pennsylvania Woodland Owners Association (SWPWOA) in 2000, Arlyn and Marial have enjoyed the company of those who share their passion for the natural world. Whether they are hosting tours, attending meetings, or relaxing at the annual picnic, Arlyn and Marial value the warm and enduring friendships with fellow tree farmers as they gain and give advice, celebrate victories, commiserate over disappointments, and work to maintain the health and beauty of Pennsylvania’s forests.
To read about past Pennsylvania Tree Farmers of the Year visit the PA Tree Farm Program web site.