Gainesville native and cartoonist Jack Elrod will be honored this week for his work on a long-running comic strip that educates readers about wilderness and conservation.
Elrod will be given the Outstanding Forestry Journalism Award from the Society of American Foresters during the organization’s national convention in Portland, Ore.
The award recognizes high quality journalistic coverage of topics that increase the American public’s understanding of forestry and natural resources.
Elrod draws the long-running comic strip Mark Trail, founded by Gainesville native Ed Dodd.
"Dodd was an outdoorsman and a man about the world," said Steve Gurr, a volunteer at the Northeast Georgia History Center, which features a Mark Trail exhibit.
The Mark Trail adventure strip began in 1946 and was published by the Post-Hall Syndicate.
Dodd’s work in national parks, along with his experiences as a hunter, fisherman and world traveler, inspired him to start the strip.
Tom Hill joined Dodd as an illustrator two years later.
Elrod became part of the team in 1950, and took over the strip after Hill’s death and Dodd’s retirement in 1978.
Mark Trail now appears in 175 newspapers and is read by more than 23 million people worldwide.
"What has always impressed me was the transition was so smooth people are not aware of it," Gurr said.
In the strip’s early years, Gurr said it was often instructional. Readers could learn how to build a campfire or make a backpack.
In addition to drawing Mark Trail, Dodd created several booklets about conservation that were used in educational programs.
"Public awareness through the means of an illustrated comic was, I think, the unique contribution that Dodd made and Elrod has enlarged on," Gurr said.
Elrod was born in Gainesville on March 29, 1924, and was a Boy Scout in Dodd’s troop in 1930.
He graduated from Gainesville High School and joined the U.S. Navy in 1942 as a weatherman, serving for more than three years in the Pacific Ocean.
After returning home, Elrod studied advertising at Harris Advertising Art School in Nashville and completed his degree at the Atlanta Art Institute in 1949.
According to the history center, Elrod also enjoyed the wilderness and often accompanied Dodd on fishing and hunting trips.
Elrod has won more than 30 awards for his environmental activism, including a 1988 award presented by President Reagan at the White House for his efforts on behalf of the "Take Pride in America" program.
In addition to drawing and writing Mark Trail, Elrod has worked with the natural resources community on several projects, including a coloring book promoting the use of prescribed fire and an activity book targeted to third- to sixth-graders about living responsibly near wetlands.
The booklets have been widely distributed by the National Association of State Foresters and through the U.S. Forest Service.