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

1 comment:

  1. Very nice - it is good to read about these wonderful trees. Thanks for sharing your experience.