The Long View

Bob Kinsinger, 84, stands on the back deck of his home with his dog, Mike, as he looks over to his 430 acres of timber near Twain Harte.
Bob Kinsinger, 84, stands on the back deck of his home with his dog, Mike, as he looks over to his 430 acres of timber near Twain Harte. Modesto Bee

TWAIN HARTE -- Bob Kinsinger, a renowned hot-air balloon pilot, can get quite a long view when he's aloft.

He takes something of the same approach to managing the 400 acres of timber that his family has owned since the early 1950s.

That approach -- culling out some of the logs while maintaining the site for future production and habitat -- earned him the California Tree Farmer of the Year award for 2007.

"The best way to describe it is sustained yield," said Kinsinger, 84. "I don't take anything out until what I took out the last time has grown back."

The award is given by the California Tree Farm Committee, a group devoted to the idea that timber must be managed actively to be safe from wildfire.

Kinsinger said his land is logged every seven to eight years, producing a modest amount of income.

The large logs go to Sierra Pacific Industries, which has two sawmills in Tuolumne County. Smaller wood material is burned to make electricity at a plant near Chinese Camp.

Kinsinger manages the land with help from forester Mike Albrecht of Sierra Resource Management in Sonora.

The pines and other conifers surround a 30-acre meadow. Some of the dead trees -- standing and fallen -- are left to decay so wildlife can make homes in them. Kinsinger said he sees bears, deer, raccoons and other creatures on his land.

Thinning the timber helps protect neighboring homes from fire, said Leon Manich, who co-owns California Reforestation in Sonora and is involved in the tree farm group.

"It gives fire crews a place to make a stand," he said.

Kinsinger has lived on the Confidence Road property since 1983. That's when he retired after 17 years as vice president at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, created by the cereal magnate in Battle Creek, Mich., to help children around the world.

It was in Michigan in the early 1970s that Kinsinger took up ballooning -- the art of heating and cooling air to guide the craft to a destination.

He has floated over the Great Wall of China, the Mount Pinatubo volcano in the Philippines, the big-game country of east Africa, and the magnetic North Pole (different from the geographic pole). He's done 32 countries in all. The longest jaunt -- over the Alps from Switzerland to Italy -- took five hours.

"It's like riding a magic carpet," Kinsinger said. "It's the kind of thing where you don't have to find an airport. You find a place to launch and you work the winds to find a place to land."

He's done all this while raising three children with his wife, Bobbie Kinsinger, who died in 2003. In the 1980s, he owned Kinland Cove, a seafood restaurant in east Sonora.

Kinsinger still does ballooning but leaves most of the piloting to a grandson who lives in San Francisco. They often meet in Tracy, climb into the basket and head for the sky.

Back home in Twain Harte, Kinsinger is firmly grounded in the management of his tree farm. It has become a popular site for visitors, including Audubon Society bird counters and pro-logging groups on field trips.

"It's managed superbly," said George Belden of Redding, secretary of the tree farm committee. "All tree farmers operate on a sustained-yield basis. In other words, you're cutting what you're growing."

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at or 578-2385.