Clarence Korstian portrait
Centennial Spotlights

Clarence Korstian

Anyone who has ever walked or conducted research in Duke Forest has Dr. Clarence Korstian to thank. As the first director of the forest and founding dean of the School of Forestry, Korstian was recruited in 1930 to care for nearly 5,000 acres of mostly abandoned agricultural and non-producing land.

Born in Nebraska in 1886, Korstian grew up on a farm and as soon as he was old enough began working the land.

Although he considered a career in teaching, he eventually settled on working in forestry in 1908. He spent two decades with the U.S. Forest Service, about half of that at the Appalachian Forest Experiment Station in Asheville before coming to Duke.

During an interview with then-President Preston Few, Korstian said he thought the forest should serve the School of Forestry the way the hospital served the medical school.

He and his team, which he brought in from around the country, worked to restore the land, planting loblolly pines or allowing natural regeneration to take place. They then created plots where research was conducted. Those plots were rediscovered in the 1970s and augmented with additional plots, which allowed researchers to determine how the forest had changed since its inception.

Under Korstian’s stewardship the forest, which celebrated 90 years in 2021, grew to 7,000 acres and serves as a legacy to the past and to his vision for the future.

Korstian remained with Duke until 1958. He died ten years later.