Friday, September 7, 2012

Old Growth Forests and 1/1000th of the Appalachian Trail

This posting combines two summer 2012 forays in search of old growth forest in the northeast. Almost all the original forest encountered by European settlers was cleared for farms, and the rest was logged for timber by the 1920s. Only small patches remain, escaping the lumberman's saw and axe because of inaccessibility, steep slopes, or boundary issues. Featured here are two sites in Pennsylvania and one in Connecticut.


Hearts Content Scenic Area in western PA is a long way to travel for a one-mile loop hike, but if you're a tree lover, it's worth the trip. The girth of some of the oldest trees could challenge any tree hugger. The oldest eastern white pines are approximately 400 years old. Other large specimens include eastern hemlock and American beech, although the latter are being killed by beech bark disease.

Looking up at the canopy
A towering hemlock

In Cook Forest State Park, one can still see dead trunks of the American chestnut, which succumbed to chestnut blight, accidentally imported from China or Japan around 1900. The park, once called the "Black Forest", contains a "Forest Cathedral" of towering eastern white pines and eastern hemlocks and is designated a National Natural Landmark. The "swamp area" contains red and white oaks, red maples, and black cherry, some over 280 years old. If you visit, be sure to hike the 1.2 mile Longfellow Trail which passes through many 300 to 400 year old trees. Many of the white pines reach 150 feet in height.

The Eastern white pines are the tallest, up to 183 feet...

...but hemlock are the most abundant of the giants

Very tall oaks and maples are a pain in the neck

 The twisted "snag" of a chestnut tree, which probably died in the 1920s


When thinking about the 2,184-mile Appalachian Trail, the state of Connecticut does not come readily to mind. Far more dramatic views from the famous trail can be found in North Carolina's Great Smoky Mountains or in New Hampshire's Presidential Range. But traveling on lesser known sections offers more subtle (and less strenuous) beauty. Hiking a 2.1 mile section in the northwest corner of Connecticut took me over Bear Mountain, the highest summit in that state (although the highest point in the state is about a mile west on the south slope of Mt. Frissell whose summit is in Massachusetts), and through a picturesque gorge known as Sage's Ravine. The forest here is technically "second-growth" or regrown forest, but it looks very similar to true old growth. The best way to access this section of the Appalachian Trail is through Mount Washington State Forest at the southwest corner of Massachusetts.

The view from Bear Mountain
Sage's Ravine

Some other old growth forests in eastern US:
Mount Greylock, MA
Landis Arboretum, NY
Linville Gorge Wilderness,  NC
Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness, NC
Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, NC

A list of old growth forests

Post by Paul Courcy

Friday, June 29, 2012

Niagara Falls and The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania

Everyone takes this picture.
Niagara Falls is an awesome spectacle demonstrating the power of water. It's especially amazing when you consider that only about half the water flowing down the Niagara River is allotted to go over the falls. The rest is diverted to turbines generating electricity. Because of this decrease in flow, the falls is eroding at a slower pace.
We found a reasonably priced hotel within walking distance of the falls. This made it easy to check out the illuminated falls after dark.

Getting wet on Hurricane Deck!
A young couple poses for a picture.

Because we did not have our passports with us, we remained on the American side of the falls. Besides viewing the American and Horseshoe Falls from the observation deck and from other high viewpoints, we also took the elevator down to the Cave of the Winds. This is where you put on water sandals (quite stylish and you get to keep them) and a plastic parka (more like a trash bag with a hood) and walk along a wooden walkway near the base of Bridal Veil Falls. First you encounter the spray. Then, on the Hurricane Deck, you get as wet as you care to and it's lots of fun. We actually went back for a second dunking. 


Unlike its namesake in Arizona, the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania is under a blanket of vegetation. Red maple, red oak, black cherry, sumac, and sassafras are some of the forest hardwoods. Everything is green in late June, but we're told the fall foliage is spectacular. We rented bikes in the village of Ansonia and biked along the Pine Creek Rail Trail running north and south through the gorge. Although the trail runs 62 miles from the towns of Wellsboro Junction to Jersey Shore, our round trip (from the bike rental place on US 6 south to the 20 mile marker) was a total of about 25 miles. The grade was slightly downhill so coming back was a bit more difficult.

The day before biking, we hiked along the Rim Trail at Colton Point State Park. This offered a view of the gorge from the rim. Another great view was from the overlook at Leonard Harrsion State Park.

Camping at Leonard Harrison State Park was easy and convenient, but offered zero privacy. We were camped two nights on a lawn with many other tents. I suppose it was good enough for campers like us who went out to dinner both nights and never lit a fire. Sleeping outdoors does have its advantages, though. The stars in north central Pennsylvania are amazing, and we were kept company all night by many fireflies. The ones that landed on the tent could be seen blinking right through the tent fabric. Camping is great if you have a good air mattress, it doesn’t rain, and it stays warm all night. So camping was great.

Hiking down the gorge on the Turkey Path Trail, we saw lots of little waterfalls. Going down is a lot easier than coming back up.

The small town of Wellsboro is very inviting, with several nice restaurants and places to stay. We had drinks and dinner at the Penn Wells Hotel (next time we'll probably stay here) and breakfast at the Wellsboro Diner.

Dinner at the Penn Wells Hotel
Breakfast at the historic Wellsboro Diner

The Grand Canyon area is all within Tioga State Forest in north central Pennsylvania. It is beautiful and, if you like hiking and biking, it's a great place to spend a couple of days. Although we did see some kayakers, the water seemed a bit low in late June.

Post by Paul Courcy