By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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The privately owned, Port Angeles-based company will celebrate the milestone Wednesday at its historic Pysht lodge.
The public is invited to attend the event from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Norm Schaaf, company vice president and timberland manager, said Merrill & Ring is among a shrinking group of centenarian private timberland owners.
“There’s been an awful lot of turnover of forest land,” he said.
“I’d say as staff, we are just very, very grateful to the owners and to their foresight in management and steadfastness in continuing to own and to manage these timberlands.”
The 40 Merrill & Ring employees and their families will join customers, suppliers, contractors and elected officials at the 125-year celebration.
The actual anniversary is in November.
Merrill & Ring and its partners hold 75,000 acres of productive timberland in Western Washington, British Columbia and New Zealand.
The largest tract is the 30,000 acre Pysht Tree Farm on Clallam County’s West End, which Merrill & Ring has owned since it was founded by T.D. Merrill, R.D. Merrill and Clark Ring in 1886.
Merrill & Ring is currently owned by the descendents of its founders in the family groups: R.D. Merrill Co., Ring Family L.P. and JLCG LLC.
Board members are elected to represent each of the families.
The company has a long history in Pysht, the tiny village on the Strait of Juan de Fuca between Clallam Bay and Joyce.
From 1915 to 1917, after years of surveying, Merrill & Ring opened a port, logging camp and started to build a railroad.
Permanent buildings, some of which are still standing today, replaced the tents that were used at first.
By 1918, Pysht was a full-blown logging camp. Loggers could send their kids to school in a one-room schoolhouse or catch a silent film for free Saturday nights at the Pysht movie house.
Soldiers from the Spruce Division of the U.S. Army, which had a camp in Pysht during World War I, helped the loggers build a five-mile railroad into the tree farm.
The existing Pysht lodge was the superintendent’s house. The lodge and three of the married family housing units are still there, but the schoolhouse and most of the other structures have been removed.
When logging operations were at their peak in the early to mid-20th century, logs were moved by a steam donkey to a landing in the woods.
They were loaded onto a locomotive and taken to a dock near the mouth of the Pysht River and shipped by tugboat to Port Angeles and mills around the Puget Sound.
“The general [logging] practices are in many ways the same, but the technology to achieve them is far different,” Schaaf said.
“You still have to move big pieces of wood with men and equipment, but the technology is so much more advanced to make that possible.”
Tree planting started at the Pysht Tree Farm in 1924. Merrill & Ring plants Douglas fir, western hemlock, western red cedar, Sitka spruce and red alder to this day.
The Pysht logging camps were closed after highways to Clallam Bay and Port Angeles were completed in the mid-20th century.
The Port of Pysht continued to ship logs for Merrill & Ring and other timber owners.
Merrill & Ring built a sawmill and chip facility in Port Angeles in 1958.
The mill was sold in 1988 to Daishowa America, which became Nippon Paper Industries USA when parent companies merged in 2003.
“Besides technology, the big changes are in the market for the logs that we produce,” Schaaf said.
“It’s certainly transitioned from large old-growth-type logs to now the much smaller second-growth.”
Tree species and grades that used to be discarded, such as alder, are now in demand.
With the rising value of pulp and wood chips, foresters can utilize “pretty much all of the tree,” Schaaf said.
“The other aspect is the regulatory environment in which we work,” he added.
“There pretty well was none 125 years ago.
“Now, it’s quite complex and comprehensive in protecting wildlife and fish species, protecting water quality. So it’s a much different environment in which we can work.”
Another big change is the social structure around the forest industry.
Schaaf said: “A hundred and 25 years ago, most everybody in the community would have been working for one of these commodity producers.
“And now, it’s maybe 10 percent, if we’re lucky.”
Clallam County commissioners Tuesday signed a proclamation recognizing the 125th anniversary of Merrill & Ring.
“As logging and milling trends changed,” it read, “M&R diversified to meet the need and with an eye to the future, they practiced sustainable forestry such as tree farming.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-417-3537 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.