The International Forest of Friendship

Welcome to The Forest of Friendship

Atchison, Kansas, high on a bluff overlooking the west bank of the Missouri River, is the birthplace of Amelia Earhart. Nicknamed “Lady Lindy,” she is the aviatrix who has captured the hearts and admiration of countless women and girls over several generations — including yours truly.

Because of Amelia and the organization she helped form — The Ninety-Nines, The International Organization of Women Pilots — Atchison is the home of The International Forest of Friendship. Here, trees are planted, cultivated and nurtured in celebration of flight and the individuals who choose to fly. The Forest promotes international friendship — across the skies.

The City of Atchison, the Ninety-Nines and the Kansas State University Forestry Department joined hands to create the IFOF.

Birthday Gift to the USA

The Forest was their gift to the Unites States of America on the occasion of our country’s Bicentennial, our 200th birthday — July 4, 1976.

The sign at the entrance reads:

A Bicentennial Tribute

from Members of the International Ninety-Nines 

and the Citizens of Atchison, Kansas

The Forest celebrates those of us who choose to leave the earth via aircraft or spacecraft, if only momentarily, and look down on the forests, the trees, the flowers, and all the earth from the air.

“You haven’t seen a tree until you’ve seen its shadow

 from the sky.”

— Amelia Earhart —

Annually, the IFOF recognizes individuals who, in their own way and through their own efforts, boost and honor aviation and/or aerospace, and encourage international understanding that can lead to international friendship. Trees planted in the Forest represent all 50 states plus more than 35 foreign countries whose citizens are so honored. Each Honoree has a brick with her/his name in the pathways of the Forest.

I was honored to be in Atchison last month (September 2019) for induction into the IFOF. A community of women associated with a very special publication,  Aviatrix Aerogram, sponsored eight of us.

Laura and Amelia

Aviatrix Aerogram is an ezine — an independent online magazine created by Laura Smith. This endeavor is Laura’s “leisure pursuit” and her passion. Laura has a day job — First Officer for a major airline. For nearly a decade, Laura has produced this aviation-focused ezine, written by women pilots about women pilots for women pilots.

For the Love of It

We who write for, do editing for, and who provide support for Aviatrix Aerogram  do not do this for monetary reward, but “for the love of it.” It is our opportunity to spread our wings by sharing our stories.

Amelia wrote For the Fun Of It. Again, we follow in her footsteps.

Laura is a big believer in recognizing and celebrating the accomplishments of women — this is a regular feature in the pages of Aviatrix Aerogram. Now that we are nearing the end of its publication run, Laura wanted to find a way to pay tribute to some of the women who have been a part of the publication. Now we join a long line of distinguished aviation figures in the International Forest of Friendship.

In 2018, Laura sponsored Deborah Begley into the IFOF in recognition of her work on the Production Team of Aviatrix Aerogram. Lynda Meeks and Laura jointly sponsored Heather Taylor, the producer of the award-winning documentary Breaking Through The Clouds: The First Women’s National Air Derby. Laura was joined by nine other women pilots in sponsoring Captain Becky Howell into the IFOF.

This year, nearly thirty women pilots from the Aviatrix Aerogram community made contributions to induct eight more into the IFOF: Sheri Baxter, Ruby Bowen, Jody “Captain Kidney” Harskamp, Donna Miller, Donna Moore, Sarah Byrn Rickman, N. Lynn Thoma, and Evelyne Tinkl.

Sarah, Evelyne and Ruby

Our next to last issue of Aviatrix Aerogram  just came out. Now we are working on the final issue. It will prominently feature this year’s Celebration at the International Forest of Friendship. To come — stay tuned.

About the Forest

The International Forest of Friendship is nestled on a gentle slope overlooking Lake Warnock, on the outskirts of Atchison. It is made up of trees from all fifty states and thirty-six territories and countries around the world where honorees reside. There are trees from George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, the Bicentennial American Spruce, a tree from Amelia’s grandfather’s farm, and the Moon Tree grown from a seed taken to the moon by Command Pilot Stuart Roosa on Apollo 14. This latter tree honors the 17 astronauts who gave their lives in America’s pioneering of space exploration up to 2001. In 2003 a monument near the tree was dedicated to the seven astronauts lost on the Shuttle Columbia.

Winding through the Forest are pathways honoring those who have, or still are, contributing to all facets of aviation and aerospace. The original path is called Memory Lane and leads to a secluded circle of benches in a grove of trees.  All of the Forest’s walkways are five feet wide (wheel chair friendly) and embedded in them are granite plaques engraved with the names of over 1,500 honorees. More information about the honorees can be found here.

 Fay Wells and Joe Carrigan: Co-Chairs

In 1976, Memory Lane was designated as the first National Recreation Trail in Kansas. In 1991, a beautiful gazebo was dedicated to Fay Wells (a founding member of the Ninety-Nines) in honor of her leadership to the Forest. A pond and waterfall honor Joe Carrigan for his many contributions as founding co-chairman. Nearby are the Amelia Earhart Earthworks and the Lake Warnock picnic grounds.

Within the overall theme of “world friendship through flight,” annual themes allow for the exploration of specific focus areas such as “discovery though flight,” “flying and forests,” “flying, forests and the future,” and “security and solace through flight.”

The Forest is open all year round, from sunrise to sunset.

Please visit and watch the virtual tour of the Forest. You’ll be glad you did!

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  1. I just want to post a remembrance for my Aunt Theda Henderson Beningfield who was inducted into the Forest of Friendship. She was a pilot and teacher from Missouri. She was a great example to me in so many, many ways.

  2. Thank you Laura for your wonderful Ezine Aviatrix Aerogram and all your kind support, mentoring and empowerment to female pilots! Well done!

    1. Maria,

      Thank you for the lovely comment you made to Laura re: her Forest of Friendship work in 2019. It was most gratifying to all of us who she supported for inclusion that year. You must be very proud of your aunt!!!

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