One might refer to Dan Kincaid as a “tree hugger,” and he would probably agree with the name.
He has a master’s degree in forestry and environmental management from Duke, spent over three decades as a forest ranger and was instrumental in getting the 1987 National Christmas Tree to Washington, D.C.
In the beginning, Dan had three choices.
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go into journalism, forestry, or possibly teaching, where I could also be a baseball or basketball coach,” he says.
As it turned out, he has achieved pretty well all of those dreams. Dan grew up in Huntington, W.Va., in a mountainous section of the state near the Monongahela National Forest.
“My grandfather owned property right up against the National Forest,” he said. “My dad liked to hunt and fish, and we liked to camp. So that’s what probably stirred my initial interest in forestry.”
Sports also played a big part in growing up. “Baseball was always my favorite sport,” he says.
Dan also exceled at football and basketball. As a high school junior, he started on the basketball team that won the 1966 state championship. They became known as the “Penicillin Kids,” a name coined by a journalist.
“There was a flu bug running through the team just before the finals and we were all sick and went to the doctor,” he said. “He gave us medicine – I’m not sure if it was penicillin – and we got through the championship game and won.”
Kincaid also has written a book about the team and its win.
“Huntington Vinson’s Penicillin Kids” is available on Amazon. That’s just one of the seven books Dan has written since moving to The Villages.
But baseball remained Dan’s passion. He played for West Virginia University for two years until a shoulder injury curtailed the activity.
Oddly, it was a painting by his girlfriend that steered him into the forestry career. He met Vicki in the ninth grade and they dated on and off through high school and were still close when they both started college. She was at Marshall and he was at West Virginia.
“For my 18th birthday, she did a painting of a forest fire,” he said. “For me, it was a kind of an omen that I should definitely major in forestry. I treasure that painting to this day.”
The piece hangs in a place of honor in his office in their Village of Dunedin home. Dan and Vicki, by the way, have been married for 47 years and have three grown children.
After a couple of years in the U.S. Air Force, Dan joined the U.S. Forest Service.
“Many people don’t know the difference between park rangers and forest rangers,” he notes. “The Park Service is part of the Department of the Interior. The U.S. Forest Service is part of the Department of Agriculture.”
As Dan explains the difference, Parks are all about preservation of areas, such as the Grand Canyon and recreation, for people today and in the future. While the National Forests also offer recreational opportunities, forest rangers are involved in the science of managing trees as a renewable crop, as well as managing soil and water projects and wildlife habitat.
“The forests are a renewable resource,” he says. “Just like you harvest corn once a year, you harvest trees every 80 or 100 years and replant the area for the next crop.”
Part of the science includes an inventory of the forest, measuring the size of trees, including height, age, type of trees, the volume of wood available and other technical factors to determine the condition and health of the forest. “You can then determine when a group of trees need to be cut and hire a company to do it so it’s done in a managed fashion,” he says.
Then, the forest rangers supervise the replanting process.
Kincaid started his journalism/writing career penning a weekly newspaper column while at the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia.
“Sometimes, people don’t really understand why the Forest Service does what we do,” he says. “So, I wrote a weekly column to let them know.”
A couple of years later, Dan moved to the Wayne National Forest in Ohio and continued with his column, now in the Marietta Times, for another decade. He soon added another column for hunters and fishermen, as well as covering local and college sports for the newspaper.
Although he was a self-described “mountain person” who enjoyed the forests and cooler weather, in 2013 Dan was diagnosed with cold agglutinin disease, a rare type of autoimmune hemolytic anemia where the body’s immune system attacks its own red blood cells. The disease is aggravated by cold. “They only know of about 10,000 people who have this. So, it’s rare,” he says.
Since there is no known cure, the primary recommendation for patients is to move to a warmer climate where the usual temperature is above 60 degrees.
“Vicki likes to tell people that we never did like Florida – that’s why we moved to The Villages,” he says.
While the activities in The Villages were a draw, softball was the deciding factor for Dan.
“I had played softball up until I was probably 40 years old. Then I got down here and saw these old guys playing and thought, ‘Maybe I can do that again,’” he says. “Since then, I’ve played in seven different leagues, sometimes five and six days a week.”
When not on the softball diamond, Dan writes. His books include collections of his newspaper columns, as well as two books featuring fictional Forest Ranger Kade Holley, who battles forest fires, vandals, train wrecks and a plane crash.
“I originally intended to target the books to young adults, but found that mature readers liked them, too,” he says.
Dan, along with almost 100 other writers, will be featured at the Central Florida Book and Author Expo on Dec. 8 at the Eisenhower Recreation Center. His next book, expected out in the spring, is a historical account about how a community group in Ohio’s Wayne National Forest area successfully lobbied to supply the National Christmas tree in 1987.
“It was the 200th anniversary of the Northwest Ordinance, which established a way of admitting new states from the territory that extended from west of the Appalachian Mountains to the Upper Mississippi,” he says. “There were hundreds of volunteers, schools and businesses involved. Marietta was the first permanent settlement in the new territory. We garnered a lot of support from the local area.”
John W Prince is a writer and Villager. For more information visit www.GoMyStory.com.