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In Natchitoches, LA you’ll find Briarwood Nature Preserve, a little out of the way and not very well known to most visitors. However, if you love nature and you love fierce women that fight to do to make changes while breaking through some glass ceilings you just might enjoy this story.
Note: Briarwood Nature Preserve is also known as the Caroline Dormon Nature Preserve.
Briarwood is the birthplace and home of Caroline Dormon. Who’s that you may wonder and why does she matter. Well, she was a world-renowned naturalist, author, artist, and the first woman to be hired in the United States Forest Service and she is the reason Kisatchie National Forest exists in Louisiana today.
I wish I lived in a world where Caroline and my paths could cross because I have a feeling her and I would become fast friends. To her, it she was just living her life. To me, she is an incredible example that strong, persevering women can make impactful changes that live on well past their time in this realm.
Her legacy lives on at the Briarwood Nature Preserve where they continue to do the work that she started in the early 1900s by preserving wildflowers native to the south and educating the public.
Meet Caroline Dormon
Born in 1888, Caroline grew up exploring the woods that surrounded her family’s farm, Briarwood. She spent her childhood outside learning as much as she could about the world around her.
In 1907 she graduated with a fine arts degree and went on to do the adulting thing and became a schoolteacher.
Let’s be honest, women in Louisiana in the early 1900s had limited opportunities, but you’ll soon find that Caroline was going to bust through some ceilings and carve a new path for herself.
Eventually teaching led her to Kisatchie Elementary School, located in the town where she had spent her childhood playing in the woods and the place of her family home, Briarwood.
It was during her tenure as a teacher that she watched the destruction of her beloved forest and started working hard to save it.
How She Started In Conservation
From her diary:
In 1920 the Southern Forestry Congress met in New Orleans. This was my opportunity to learn what —- if anything —- was being done to save the southern pines from destruction. The lumbermen had found them and were mowing them down like fields of wheat. Because they nearly always grew in pure stands, all of merchantable size, nothing was left in the wake of the loggers. The inevitable fires followed, and the beautiful longleaf pine country was becoming a desert. -Caroline Dormonhttps://briarwoodnp.org/blog/f/the-story-of-kisatchie
She was met with roadblock after roadblock as she advocated to save the forest. Even then money talked and trees for lumber equaled a lot of money. However, it didn’t stop her from continuing to work to find a way to save some of the land and the longleaf pines.
Eventually, the Louisiana Department of Conservation hired her to devise plans for teaching forestry in public schools, to paint posters, and write bulletins. This was a significant step in the direction of realizing her dream of a national forest.
Over the years she worked to pass a law vital to the creation of National Forest in the state of Louisiana and worked within the state forestry system. Eventually her dream was realized and in the early 1930’s the Kisatchie National Forest was born.
When Caroline wasn’t working to save the forest she wrote nature books, collected rare and native plants, and helped the state write and publish, “Forest Trees of Louisiana.” That book ended up becoming a textbook for many state schools.
Her books include Wildflowers of Louisiana, Flowers Native to the Deep South, Natives Preferred, Bird Talk, and Southern Indian Boy, and countless magazine articles.
Over the years, due to her passion for nature and teaching her home, Briarwood, became the “go-to” place for botanists to learn and had the state’s largest collection of rare native plants.
Caroline passed in 1971, but prior to her death she willed her beloved land and home to a non-profit to carry on her work.
Visiting Briarwood Nature Preserve Today
This is the legacy of Caroline Dormon.
Today, Briarwood is the most complete botanical and wildlife sanctuary in Louisiana and is visited by guests from around the world.
Visitors come to walk down forest trails, see the beauty of the Louisiana iris bog, admire the reflection pool, and to continue to learn about conservation. The forest at the preserve is dominated by Loblolly pines that range in age from 120-300 years old.
During your visit you will have the chance to see critically endangered species, native plants, and a variety of wildlife. Tours include the viewing of Caroline’s cabin, Wing’s Rest Pond, Bay Garden, Grandpappy, and other unique places.
Watch the Briarwood Facebook page to see when the nature preserve is at peak for colorful wildflowers carpeting the forest floor.
Briarwood is shown by guided tours, which last 1-2 hours, and are available year-round. There is a small gift shop and restroom on site.
The nature preserve is located at 216 Caroline Dormon Rd, Saline, LA, a quick drive from historic Natchitoches.
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