The Royal Navy Admiral Collingwood would famously slip a handful of acorns into his pockets before taking a walk in the woods near his home. He would press an acorn into the soil whenever he saw a good place for an oak tree to grow. He wanted to make sure that the Navy would never lack oak trees to build the fighting ships upon which the country’s safety depended.
The US Navy has gone one step further. At a high tech facility in Indiana, hundreds of miles from the sea, the navy maintains “Constitution Grove“, a private 50,000-acre white oak forest dedicated to supplying timber to maintain the one remaining commissioned wooden sailing ship in the US Navy, the USS Constitution. The sailing frigate was built of primarily white oak in 1797.
The ship completed a two year drydocking and restoration program in 2017. During the restoration 35 trees from the grove were selected to be harvested to replace rotting hull planks.
Constitution Grove is not only protected for the white oak trees, but also the biological diversity an oak forest provides, including the wildlife that live there. Three Navy civilian foresters help maintain the wood and ensure that no tree removed from the ecosystem will have an adverse effect on the grove’s biodiversity.
If maintaining a forest in the 21st century for an 18th-century ship might seem slightly anachronistic, its location is also rather unusual. Constitution Grove is located in the Naval Support Activity Crane, the third largest naval installation in the world by geographic area and employs approximately 3,300 people. The principal tenant is the Naval Surface Warfare Center.
The base is 35 miles southwest of Bloomington, Indiana, or over 750 miles from the nearest saltwater. It was built originally as a navy ordnance center in 1941. Now it provides a wide range of high-tech design and engineering services. Here is how the Navy Sea Systems Command describes NSWC Crane:
The mission of NSWC Crane is to provide acquisition engineering, in-service engineering and technical support for sensors, electronics, electronic warfare and special warfare weapons. NSWC Crane also works to apply component and system-level product and industrial engineering to surface sensors, strategic systems, special warfare devices and electronic warfare systems, as well as to execute other responsibilities as assigned by the Commander, Naval Surface Warfare Center.
And oak trees. The base also supplies oak trees to help maintain the US Navy one ship wooden commissioned sailing fleet.