Family of forest workers right at home in woods

Robin Blakely, a third-generation forest worker, holds a Bible that belonged to her grandfather who also was a national forest worker. Blakely found the Bible while furniture was being moved.

HUGER -- The old wooden desk haunted Robin Blakely, stirring odd memories of her childhood, for six years as she worked at it.

The day the carpet was replaced in the ranger station for the Francis Marion National Forest, she had to empty the desk so it could be turned over, picked up and moved. She pulled out the main drawer, and when workers tilted the desk forward, a weathered New Testament fell out from the back wall where it had stuck.

The name scrawled in pencil on its front page was the Rev. William Pierce, her grandfather. He was the ranger

dispatcher even before the Francis Marion opened as a national forest in 1936. The desk was where he worked when Blakely as a small child came to visit.

Blakely, 58, is the third generation in her family to work at the forest, the seventh or eighth family member, all together. Her mom and dad both worked there. Her dad, Roland Williams, at age 7 stoked coals on the lumber train locomotive run by her paternal grandfather, Willie Williams.

Her family cuts a blaze through the history of this place. As a child she was taken on visits to the Marions outside Pineville, where she could gape at the old guns carried by Francis "Swamp Fox" Marion two centuries before.

When Blakely was a child, her father spent long hours all week out in the woods working as a fire technician and law enforcement ranger. When weekends came, he loaded up a picnic basket, put his family in the car and drove out to roam where he had been all week. On the way to church on Sunday, if something smoldered on the roadside, he pulled off, grabbed a pine bough and swatted to put it out. The family climbed out to help.

Then they all climbed back in and went on to service.

Even today, while Robin Blakely works as a contract officer, she grabs every chance she can to pull on the boots and get out in the field. Like her dad, she took her children and now her grandchildren on hikes and fishing, shooting photographs. Like dad, she points out the different trees, plants and critters.

"I live in the forest. I grew up here," she said. "Give me a camera and a swamp, and I'm in hog heaven."

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