SARATOGA SPRINGS — The state's tree nursery, the oldest in the country, was renamed Friday to honor a Civil War veteran and "father" of the state's forest rangers, who hailed from Ballston Spa.

Colonel William F. Fox's name now graces the sign for the nursery, which was established in 1911. The nursery was created primarily to grow conifer seedlings "for water supply protection, soil protection, and for timber plantations to ensure a steady supply of lumber," according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Basil Seggos, DEC commissioner, said Fox "is arguably one of the most important people in the long-storied history of New York State forest lands and forest management."

Before his forestry work, Fox served in the army, seeing combat at one of the bloodiest battles in history, Antietam. He served in multiple other battles before getting discharged in 1864.

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In 1885, Fox was appointed assistant secretary of the state's Forest Commission, which oversaw the state's Forest Preserve. Fox expanded the preserve to include more than 1.6 million acres of "forever wild" lands, the DEC said in a news release.

The Forest Commission would eventually go through various name and organizational changes before becoming what is now known as the DEC.

Fox is also credited with creating the country's first forest fire protection program under a public authority.

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