Kentucky Old Growth Conference:
Installment #1 - Going South to Kentucky
  Robert Leverett
  Jun 29, 2007 07:30 PDT 


       Monica and I have many rich experiences to share with our fellow and lady Ents that occurred during the June 13 – 24 period when we were in the South for the Kentucky old growth conference organized by soooper doooper Ent Dr. Neil Pederson. After the conference, we headed to North Carolina for a rendezvous with Will Blozan and Jess Riddle for a special
Tsuga Search mission. It was as much spiritual as physical. On leaving Will’s, we returned home via the Blue Ridge Parkway – a fully spiritual experience. The full trip was planned so that my wife Monica could see and experience the mountains of my youth and hopefully fall in love with them (she did). But there is so much to relate that I must present our trip in installments. Here is the first.
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Field Trip at Blanton Forest, Kentucky,  Bob Leverett has his eyes on a red maple that needs measured - photo by Carl Harting


     June 13th was a rainy day as Monica and I headed south. I had high expectations for the old growth conference in Kentucky and would find myself not in any way disappointed. We headed south on I91 then west across the Mass Turnpike (I90) crossing the Berkshires and part of the Taconics. The crossing on I90 is ritualistic for me. I’ve done it so many times that I know all the trees by first name. On leaving Massachusetts, we traversed a brief stretch of New York’s Turnpike before heading south on the rolling and ever pleasant Taconic Parkway of eastern New York. I immediately set about scanning the changing landscape of trees for signs of an interesting species, the tree of my youth, the tuliptree. Beyond the conference, Tsuga Search, and my usual tree-measuring purposes, I had a special mission and that was to take note of the distribution of tuliptrees over the geographical provinces covered in the trip. I want to do my part in the study that my HCC colleague Professor Gary Beluzo is determined to refine the distribution maps for Liriodendron tulipifera. The tuliptree study will go on through the summer, and by autumn, hopefully, we’ll know more about the distribution of tuliptrees principally in Massachusetts and northern New York. We will also make plenty of comparisons of the performance of that noble species as it presents itself to adoring eyes in the central Atlantic states and the Southeast.    

     The first day of our trip was rainy and the poor driving conditions prevented me from snatching even quick glances at the wooded landscape that passed by. The day was spent driving with me fussing as trucks sprayed our windshield. It was just press the peddle to the metal and hope. We reined it in just north of the Virginia border in a small West Virginia town. The motel we stayed at was adequate and not expensive, at least not compared to Massachusetts standards, where highway robbery is the norm. However, the surrounding location of the West Virginia spot was suburban and carried none of the local color of the mountain communities. It didn’t matter, we just wanted to rest.

JUNE 14th

     Providence smiled on us and the weather turned favorable. We rolled down I81 with the lone line of the Blue Ridge Mountains to our east and the Alleghenies to our west. Basically, for much of its length in Pennsylvania and south, I81 follows a vast rift valley region, which bears different names in different geographical locations. In Pennsylvania, we have the Lehigh Valley. In Virginia, we have the Shenandoah and Roanoke Valleys. Even farther south we encounter the Tennessee Valley. Mountains are ever present on both sides of the valley province, sometimes very close and sometimes more distant. Near Roanoke, VA, the Alleghenies to the west and the Blue Ridge to the east are joined for a brief distance. I’m unsure of the geological explanation for the brief disappearance of the valley.

       In trips that I made down I81 in the 1970s, most of the time the driving was pleasant, but not anymore. Now one must dodge big trucks and suffer the negative visual impact of a degraded landscape. Much of the I81 corridor has become ugly with sprawling developments popping up everywhere. Alas, it is a sign of the times – perhaps apocalyptic. As for me, I long for the times when I81 was a delightful drive that one could take in early April and witness an explosion of color from dogwoods and redbuds. Maybe a few folks even notices the gaudy displays, but now, stressed out people drive 80MPH and yap incessantly on cell phones. You see them constantly multi-tasking in an extremely dangerous way, oblivious to the dwindling tidbits of a once natural landscape that zip by. But there is nothing that can be done. It is the societal norm.

        In southern Virginia, we angled over toward the Kentucky border and eventually picked up Route 160 that goes through a little town named Appalachia, VA. We crossed Black Mountain, actually a small range of mountains that contains Kentucky’s highest single point at 4,139 feet.  Older elevations show up on maps as 4,145 feet – a fact of little importance to most people, but of critical significance to people like myself. Don’t ask me why. Unfortunately, Black Mountain is privately owned – the coal companies, of course. And they have done the mountain dirty. I will not digress into a rant about coal mining companies.   

     Driving Route 160 is an experience. I don’t recommend it for the fainthearted. The road starts out benign enough. But as it gains altitude, it turns narrow, has hairpin turns, and is extremely steep.  There are spots where the grade is at least 15% if not more. Our car labored mightily as I had to downshift into second gear. But 160 is scenic and it had been honored by the name the “Trail of the Lonesome Pine”. The name honors John Fox Jr. who wrote a novel about families in the southern Appalachians in the early 1900s. A popular movie was made by that name. I vaguely remember the movie.

      Dropping down Black Mountain’s west side, we headed through coal mining country and toward Pineville, Pine Mountain, and ultimately Pine Mountain State Resort Park. That is where our conference was held. Pine Mountain isn’t as lofty as Black Mountain, but is nonetheless steep-sided and is the site of Kentucky’s largest old-growth forest. I should point out that both Black Mountain and Pine Mountain are geologically defined as mountains as opposed to the broad Cumberland Plateau, which has plenty of mountainous relief courtesy of water erosion. But according to what we were told, Pine and Black Mountains are the stubs of uplifts that have always born the shapes of mountains.

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Pine Mountain Resort Lodge

     In late afternoon, we made it to the resort and found it very much to our liking. The cabin we stayed in was well designed and most comfortable. While checking in, we ran into Carl Harting and his wife.  It was great to see familiar faces. Ents are carpeting the landscape. Our cabin had two bedrooms, two baths, a living room area, a kitchenette, and a back deck. It was immaculate. We shared the cabin the second night with our friend Lee Frelich.

       Pine Mountain Resort Park has a conference center, plenty of hiking trails, a golf course, cabins, regular rooms, and a fine restaurant. From the dining room, there are fabulous views of the surrounding mountainous terrain. Immediately down the ridge from the lodge is an old-growth forest named Hemlock Garden. You look out the restaurant window and down and into the old growth. Way cool! Monica gave a thumbs-up to everything and that made me extremely happy. We planned an early trip into Hemlock Garden for Friday morning before the conference.

     Well, this ends the first installment and gets us ready for to the real goodies, which I’ll begin faithfully reporting on in installment #2 next week.


Robert T. Leverett
Cofounder, Eastern Native Tree Society

Kentucky Old Growth Conference: 
Installment #2
   Jun 30, 2007 18:38 PDT 

      This is installment #2 of Monica and Bob's trip taken during the period of June 13th-24th. The first installment covered the 13th and 14th. This covers the 15th, the first day of the Kentucky OG conference.

JUNE 15th

         On June 15th, Monica and I awoke in the cabin to clear skies and empty stomachs. However, the morning was cool and so I took a quick walk around the cabin to check out the forest while Monica showered. I found a short trail and took it. I noticed the abundance of hickories, black and white oak, American beech, and tuliptree. They were commingled. There was a lot of poison ivy, both on the boundaries of the woodlands and within. I tiptoed around it to take a girth measurement of a black oak. Tree heights were around 100 feet. I searched for taller stuff, but then my stomach growled. It was time to put on the feed bag, so I hustled back to the cabin. Monica was ready. Our plan was to satisfy our hunger at the lodge before heading down the trail to Hemlock Gardens. We were mindful that the day was going to be hot and humid, so we rushed a bit, but not too much. I always look forward to breakfasts in the South. I love New England, but breakfasts are not a specialty in the Northeast. There are the good spots, but they are rare. However, good breakfasts in the South are common. Spiced sausage, fresh eggs, bacon that you can’t see through, country ham, biscuits, gravy, and grits are the mainstay. Umm, umm good! Unfortunately, I have had to give up country ham because of the excessive salt content. You can permanently preserve your internal organs with a daily ration of country ham, if consumed continuously for a couple of decades.

Hemlock Garden Trail

 Length: .5 mile loop (1 mile with Inspiration Point spur); Elevation Change: 250 feet

Description: The path descends down into a wooded ravine containing old-growth hemlock trees that are 3-4 feet in diameter and over 300 years old; the Hemlock Garden. Many large white oak and tulip poplar trees are also found here and several large sandstone boulders form Boulder Alley, where the trail meanders along a woodland stream among house-sized rocks. Other highlights include footbridges, cascading stream views and a charming native stone shelter house built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s. An optional side-spur path leads to Inspiration Point, a large thicket of rhododendron nestled among towering hemlocks.

        The Hemlock Gardens trail drops rapidly down into a steep ravine. The trail then winds a bit, before eventually reaching an old CCCs shelter, which was constructed in the 1930s. The change in elevation is a little over 250 feet, so the climb is quite modest. A stream flows through the ravine, providing extra moisture for a number of charismatic tree species. Big leaf magnolia, umbrella magnolia, and cucumber magnolia are all present in the Ravine as is tuliptree, black gum, hemlock, red, black, white, and chestnut oak. The red maple, sugar maple, pignut hickory, white ash, yellow and black birch and American beech combined with the former list remind one that the Kentucky woodlands are a mix of northern and southern species jumbled together. It is a mix and match theme that is repeated through the southern Appalachians. The Smokies have it in spades, but so do the mountain woodlands of eastern Kentucky.

       Hemlock Gardens is old growth and the question always arises in the inquiring mind as to why? Layered sedimentary rock, a sandstone conglomerate, creates overhangs that obviously deterred logging, but only within a narrow corridor; basically, the bottom of the ravine. I should point out that rhododendron and mountain laurel are common in eastern Kentucky and these evergreen shrubs impart a slightly exotic look and feel to the vegetation. They can do it singly, but in combination one feels transported beyond the temperate zone.

        Adelgid has reached the hemlocks and the Nature Preserves people who manage the site plan to hit the adelgid with everything they have. It is a refreshing attitude. They value not only hemlock habitat, but individual trees. That doesn’t always happen. The staff has an abundant supply of Merit, courtesy of the nearby golf course, so I’m happy to report that the hemlocks of Hemlock Gardens have a reasonably bright future.

        I measured a number of trees on our quick rounds of the trail, a sufficient number to convince me that the tallest trees are hemlocks and tuliptrees and are in the mid-120s with the exception of a single tuliptree that tipped the scales at 131.1 feet in height and 9.8 feet in girth. The best I could do on hemlocks was a respectable 124.7 feet in height and 7.1 feet in girth. A few hemlocks approach 12 feet in circumference as a consequence of heavy buttressing because of being on a steep slope. A single chestnut oak in Hemlock Gardens reaches 101.2 feet in height and 12.2 feet in girth. It is the largest tree we saw. With some searching, I think we could establish a Rucker index of around 110 for Hemlock Gardens. On 7 species, I got 111.2. Notably, size of the hardwoods was not appreciably different from what I routinely see in the Massachusetts Berkshires and Taconics and the hemlocks of Hemlock Gardens are comparable to their old-growth Berkshire counterparts.

     All in all, Hemlock Gardens is fairly impressive, especially when one combines forests with rock outcroppings. Most importantly, the site provided Monica with her first real look at a southern Appalachian forest – a mixed mesophytic forest. The rhododendron and mountain laurel gives Hemlock Gardens that exotic, southern Appalachian cove forest look, but in a fairly mild dose within Hemlock Gardens. I knew what Monica had ahead of her in the Smokies and so I was careful not to spoil the ambience by uttering one of my silly Bubba-like statement such as “You ain’t seen nuthin yet!”.

     In summary, Hemlock Gardens is a fairly dry ravine environment with moderately large, quite old, and somewhat tall trees. Although the Gardens is located in the wettest area of the state, which I presume averages around 50 to 55 inches of precipitation annually, the abundance of oaks in the ravine on the slopes just above the wet corridor speaks to less precipitation--I’m guessing between 40 and 45. One last statement of our round of the Gardens, I wish they had chosen a different name. “Gardens” sounds too manicured, and manicured, it isn’t.

            Upon returning from the walk, we prepared ourselves for the start of the OG conference. We met some old friends of mine, ate a delightful lunch at the lodge, and then filed into the conference room, ready for what we all knew would be a delightful experience. I’ll save the conference for installment #3.


Installment #3
  Jul 11, 2007 15:01 PDT 

     This is Installment #3.

     The Kentucky OG conference commenced on June 15th at 1:00PM at Pine Mountain State Resort Park. The conference accommodations were absolutely top flight. We were all set to go. Our EKU host and faithful Ent Neil Pederson started the conference by giving us a preview of what was to follow. He then introduced yours truly for the first presentation. I had put together a PowerPoint Presentation with a mix of text and old growth images that was supposed to provide an overview, past and present, of old growth awareness from several perspectives. In the prior weeks, I had struggled to find a balance between presenting the historical roots of old growth awareness as it emanated from: (1) early naturalists, (2) past forestry efforts in inventorying property being acquired by the then fledgling U.S. Forest Service, a nd (3) the later efforts of naturalists, scientists, and forest activists often attempting to preserve forests. I interjected my personal journey through my developing state of OG awareness. I pointed out how slippery the slope becomes when we attempt to institutionalize an elusive state of forest development. Looking back, I'm unsure if I accomplished anything with my presentation, but it was early and we were all in high spirits so I think I squeaked through in a more or less ceremonial role. The real presentations were about to begin. But before leaving the theme of my presentation, a later presentation by my long time friend Rob Messick of North Carolina concentrated on the state of knowledge and awareness of prior forest researchers. Rob has specialized in this avenue of research and some of his material is illuminating.

     Following my presentation, Ryan McEwan gave a fascinating account of the “Dendroecology of Ancient Oak-Ash Woodlands in the Blue Grass Region of Central Kentucky”. Growth rates and forms of the bur oak that once dotted the Blue Grass domain immediately caught my attention. Basically, McEwan argued that early Native American and later colonial land use accounts for much of what we attribute to natural processes to include the Blue Grass that early settlers saw. Small Pox had eliminated much of the Native population, and for a time, Kentucky became a unclaimed hunting grounds for tribes such as the Shawnee, Miami, and to an extent, Cherokee. So, perhaps the Blue Grass wasn’t as much a result of raw nature as we once thought. For me though, the message of blue grass as the aftermath of anthropogenic land use was no t welcome news. However, evidence for denser Native populations in central Kentucky will be good news for those who have maintained that the pre-settlement landscape was anything but unsettled. I'm thinking of Tom Bonnicksen in particular.

     Bonnicksen’s thesis is that what we often think of as the untrammeled pre-settlement landscape was, in fact, worked over pretty good by indigenous peoples over several millennia. Bonnicksen, a silviculturist, is clearly biased toward wide scale indigenous land use. In his “America’s Ancient Forests” Bonnicksen has strung together informative anecdotal accounts of Native American land use practices that undeniably add to our understanding of the nature of the landscape of the 1600s and prior. In this regard, Bonnicksen has rendered a service. However, be advised that Bonnicksen believes that old growth forests in our national parks, as well as the wilderness areas in our national forests, are going to waste. He believes pretty much in managing woodlands for timber come what may. But enough about Bonnicksen.

     In summary, McEwan has done valuable research on the ecology of the Blue Grass region. His research and that of Kentucky archeologists points unambiguously to fairly concentrated numbers of indigenous people in pre-settlement times in the Blue Grass region. This does not surprise me. Native peoples did have a large impact on millions of acres of the eastern forest biome, but they likely had minimal impact on millions of other acres. Where the balance lies, I don't know. The true nature of the pre-settlement landscape is a puzzle that may never be fully solved.

     Ryan McEwan’s presentation was followed by an animated and entertaining presentation by Jeff Stringer, a silviculturist, who enlightened us on “Silvicultural Methods to Enhance Old Growth Attributes in Eastern Deciduous Forests”. Jeff definitely thinks in broader and longer planning terms than does the industrial arm of forestry. The latter has virtually destroyed any otherwise legitimate claims forestry might have had as custodians of our forests.

      I acknowledge that silviculturists like Stringer know a lot about forest structure, and given the threats to our forests, they have important contributions to make, especially when diseases and insect pests threaten species after species. They may need to be at the forefront of the efforts to hold on to at least some of the attributes of what many of us cherish in our native forests. So, I guess I need to support their efforts to give us designer old growth - uh, to a degree. Since Stringer issued plenty of caveats to his work, I wasn’t inclined to challenge him. His presentation was a valuable contribution to the conference.    

        After a break, my old friend Rob Messick gave a highly informative presentation on the forest ecology icons of Kentucky past. Dr. E. Lucy Braun ranks #1 of course. Although only a tiny fraction of the human race knows who E. Lucy Braun is, she is a true giant among women struggling to break though an old boy network.

        Rob cited other early scientists and foresters who showed a remarkable grasp of the importance of preserve the remaining old growth forests on public lands. His thesis was that there was a lot more knowledge circulating around about the nature and whereabouts of OG than subsequent generations have understood. I hope Rob will write a book on the early forest icons. But what happened? In a nutshell, with the advent of World War II and the national need for timber, the Forest Service became a very different kind of governmental agency. Control of the forestry profession passed to an industrial-academic-government coalition that turned deaf, dumb, and blind to the role and importance of retaining reserves of natural forests. Authors such as Michael Frome (sp) have written convincingly about the sub version of the Forest Service during and after WWII. More recently, with the advent of the environmental movement of the 80s and 90s, enormous pressure was exerted on the Forest Service to re-connect to its original charge and substantial changes resulted, with some excellent results. Don Bragg speaks convincingly of the quality of forests on some of the national forests. The big point is that Rob Messick has fashioned a mid-life career out of this story. I hope he sees the project through until a conclusion.

        What emerged for me from Marc Evans’s presentation was a much clearer picture of Kentucky’s natural heritage. Many people visual oceans of blue grass and aristocratic horse racing when Kentucky is mentioned. Song-writer Stephen Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home” induces a mild case of nostalgia in many of us, but Kentucky is much, much more. It is naturally rich with flood plain forests and the all-important mixed mesophytic zone. And surprisingly enough, Kentucky offers many opportunities for modest old growth discoveries. Its big trees, natural diversity, cultural heritage, geological wonders (Mammoth Cave), old growth, will keep some of us occupied for years. 

            After a walk down through Hemlock Gardens followed by a very good dinner, we returned to the evening session. For me, the presentation by Marc Evans who carries the title “Community Ecologist of the Kentucky Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission” was most illuminating. This Kentucky program reminded me of an effort in Massachusetts back in the mid-1990s to establish nature preserves. The MA program never worked. The Massachusetts Bureau of Forestry wanted full control of all forests on DCR lands and literally sabotaged the program. It was a classic example of a turf battle that did not serve the common good. But turf issues all too often govern the way our society operates. Regardless, the Kentucky program is an example of a red state program that trumps the efforts of a blue state. I found this amusing, and having grown up in the red states, satisfying to a small degree. But I don't take the feeling of satisfaction too far. The horrendous destruction of the natur al habitat and scenic beauty of Kentucky that the coal industry has wrought speaks more to the composite impact of red state versus blue state politics and mentality.

         Lee Frelich’s post-dinner presentation on the earthworm invasion had a fresh face and was, as always, extremely informative. Lee is an incredible engaging presenter. He knows how to take large amounts of data, complicated relationships, obscure trends, and draw clear conclusions for an audience of varying scientific sophistication and do it in both a compelling and entertaining way. He is simply one of the best presenters around. Other highly qualified scientists often struggle with their presentations. They never seem to know what makes for a good, attention-holding presentation and what becomes insufferably boring. How many planning steps and partial results must we have to endure. I recall many groans from an audienc e trying to be appreciative when exposed to one too may confusing graphs. However, I’ve never heard anyone call Lee’s presentations boring. His presentations not only get the highest marks for informational content, but Lee's Garrison Keilor-like sense of humor delights all but the stuff-shirts. In answering questions from the audience, Lee is informative, but also blunt. He pulls no punches, dodges no questions.  

     After dinner, we took a second walk in Hemlock Gardens. Lee and Neil accompanied us. I measured a huge chestnut oak. Jess Riddle took the girth at 12 feet and 2 inches. Its height to an obscure crown was right at 101 feet. Great tree? I look forward to pitching in, exploring Kentucky, and helping out Neil in whatever ways I can.    Well, I’ll stop here and pick up Saturday’s events in Installment #4.


Installment #4   Robert Leverett
  Jul 12, 2007 05:58 PDT 


    Installment #4.

      On Saturday morning Neil Pederson led off the morning program with an outstanding presentation, giving us a window into what we can learn from studying the tree rings. He illustrated how tree rings often reveal counter-intuitive information/trends. Rapid growth in old growth trees was an example that he gave. Neil stressed that in understanding the role that trees can play in our understanding of climate and other natural processes and phenomena. He reminded us that trees record environmental events, probably in variety of ways yet to be discovered.  A life form that has endured for 400 or more seasons and bears testament to passing storms, fires, drought, wet periods, etc. is a life form to be respected and valued. The message was crystal clear.

         Neil is a superb presenter. He has an easy, comfortable style of delivery. He knows how to emphasis points of real relevance and excites conference attendees over what is clearly his passion. Neil is extremely important to the old growth movement. I don’t mean to embarrass him with these accolades, but I hope Eastern Kentucky University understands what an important researcher and teacher they have in Neil.

         After Neil, Dr. William Martin spoke to the management of old growth mixed mesophytic forests. Bill is virtually an institution among old growth researchers. He is retired now and enjoying his retirement. In addition to being professor emeritus at EKU, for a number of years, Bill was the Commissioner For Natural Resources for the state of Kentucky. In that capacity, he got an education on how hard it is to get the public to back good forest management, forest preservation, and sound environmental laws. Bill is a wily fellow with an easygoing, southern style of delivery, but his message packs a punch and reflects great experience. Bill has been the keynote speaker at a number of old growth conferences, including the one here in Massachusetts, and in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and New Hampshire.

        Over the years, Bill has helped me in understanding a lot about the essence of old growth ecosystems. He is of the old school when it comes to old growth definitions, in a "what you see is what you get sort of way". He shares his teaching burden of me with Lee Frelich and Charlie Cogbill. The three are very different in style, but all are powerhouses and have different contributions to make with respect to our understanding of old growth ecosystems. Each specializes in a geographical region, but can take an expanded view when called upon to do so. There are other well-schooled old growth researchers, some with narrow focuses and some with broader ones. Looking at the group as a whole, some will put you to sleep as lecturers and some are exciting. A few are spellbinding.

        In my retirement years, I have the hope of writing a book about the modern academic shapers of our old growth awareness. I am acquainted with quite a few. We’ll see if I can follow through with my desire to tell their story.

        At the end of Bill’s presentation (I'll say more about his, which dealt with management issues in a later e-mail), we had lunch and then headed for a real treat – an interpretive hike into Blanton Forest.  Our trip will be covered in installment #5.


Robert T. Leverett
Cofounder, Eastern Native Tree Society
Installment #5    Robert Leverett
   Jul 12, 2007 15:00 PDT 


Installment #5
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Blanton Forest - photo by Carl Harting

     Blanton Woods OG was our field trip. The weather cooperated and after lunch on Saturday, we were on our way. The Blanton OG was discovered by Marc Evans back in the 1990s. I remember Bill Martin telling me about it. It turned out to be the largest OG reserve in the state. The total protected OG acreage in Blanton stands at about 2,300 although I have no doubt that Pine Mountain has more spots scattered over its 100-mile plus length. Much of the OG is on the dry side of Pine Mountain and it is that side that we sat out to explore with Marc and Neil as our very capable leaders. After passing through a second-growth area, the old growth signatures became everywhere unmistakable - at least to those who recognize them. That apparently wasn't the case for Kentucky state foresters who flatly denied there could be any OG that they didn't know about when it was first reported by Marc. However, Bill Martin quickly put the issue to rest and Blanton has since grown into a source of pride for Kentuckians who are in the know. There is more to the Blanton story than that, but I'll leave the rest of it to Neil.   

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Neal Pederson cores a nearly 300 year old white oak at Blanton Forest - photo by Carl Harting

     We headed up Pine Mountain on a moderately steep trail. Tuliptrees, umbrella magnolias, hemlock, chestnut oak, and red maple caught my eye.  The rhododendron created that characteristic, slightly exotic effect that I associate with the southern Appalachians. We walked via a path that starts out in second growth forest. Well-shaped hemlocks and several impressive white oaks greeted us. I measured one to 105 feet in height and 10.4 feet in girth. A second, discovered on the return trip measured 117.8 feet in height and 9.0 feet around.

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Marc Evans stands next to the recently christened (by Bob Leverett) Marc Evans Hemlock in Blanton Forest - photo by Carl Harting

     But to conclude, the trees on the dry side of Blanton forest are impressive, but not overpowering. I measured the following species maximums:

    Species           Max Hgt      Max Girth      Same Tree

     Hemlock         131.5             10.9              No

     Tuliptree          135.3            7.4 *            Yes

     Red Maple       121.7             7.5               Yes

     N. Red Oak      105.0             8.4               Yes

    Chestnut Oak    105.1             9.7                No

* There are slightly larger ones, but the tuliptree performance is not at all exceptional for that species on the dry side of Blanton. Marc assured me that significantly larger tulips grow on the wet side of the mountain. I want to see them.

     When Monica and I left Blanton, we headed down U.S. 25E passing near historic Cumberland Gap of Daniel Boone fame. Boone was a heck of a woodsman, but no better than the Indians who captured him. He lived with them for a year or more, as I recall, before leaving - sneaking away, I think. Anyway, we were passing through Daniel Boone territory. We entered Tennessee and rolled on, eventually crossing the Clinch Mountain Ridge at about 2,000 feet elevation. Serendipitously, we found an idyllic little cabin to spend the night. The cabin is perched at the edge of the mountainside overlooking a valley at about 1,000 feet below.  The highest points of Clinch Mountain Ridge brush 2,500 feet, so the terrain has mountainous elements, but its long ridgeline overlooking smaller ridges and a large valley region gives it a different feel form the more continuous mountain terrain in the Pine Mountain region. There was something instantly pleasing about the spot and the cabin on Clinch Mountain.

     The cabin had a small deck overlooking the valley beyond. By opening the front and back doors, a delightful breeze passed through, and as nightfall approached, Monica and I sat on the deck and looked into a starry sky. The night was magical, the stuff of novels. There was something else. On occasion, if one is lucky, one gets the right combination of temperature, humidity, and breezes to experience and effect that is ineffable. Those were the conditions that we experienced that Saturday night. The little restaurant at the gap was adequate, but we chose not to eat there that evening. We both agreed that we must return to that spot on Clinch Mountain our next trip through Kentucky and Tennessee.

     Still coming is our return trip after the Smokies via the Blue Ridge Parkway. I've already covered the Smokies portion. Oh yes, I found more OG in the Pisgah area along the Parkway.


Robert T. Leverett
Cofounder, Eastern Native Tree Society

Re: Installment #5   Neil Pederson
  Aug 06, 2007 08:42 PDT 

Thank you for your excellent reporting on your trip and the activities as a
part of the ENTS-Kentucky Old Growth Forest gathering. It was a very good

For those who has missed the meeting, you can download several of the
presentations here:

Don't forget to miss Rob Messick's presentation that includes several old
photographs/images of spectacular trees that were a part of the original
forest in eastern Kentucky.

Bob asked me to say a few words on Blanton Forest, the primary forest we
visited in southeastern Kentucky:

As Bob said, Blanton was 'discovered' [brought to the public's attention] in
the early 1990s by state community ecologist Marc Evans. It is amazing to me
that an intact forest of that scale could be discovered so recently. I was
fortunate to be given permission to core trees in the forest to reconstruct
drought history. I've cored in various sections of the forest, mostly around
the upper slopes in the eastern portion, in a central portion and in the
western portion of the reserve. There is just so many old and large trees in
the forest. The undulating surface make the reserve seem so much larger: ** - While leading a group of students across the
reserve from east to west while coring trees, it felt much like that old
Simpsons episode where Bart keeps asking Homer how much further. My
Homeresque reply as to when we'd get back to the one trail in the entire
forest was, "Just over that next ridge." It was a longer day in the field.

It was, however, a very productive day. I just made a quick tally of the
trees cored. Of the 30+ [total] white & chestnut oaks, ~ 66% are over 200
yrs [minimum tree age - no corrections for hollow trees or distance to
presumed pith at coring height]. Nearly half of the total are more than 300
yrs old. The oldest, a chestnut oak, dates to ~ 1669. Daniel Boone wasn't
even thought of when this tree was moving to the canopy! We cored around 16
eastern hemlocks as well. Many are at least 200 yr old [minimum ages,
again], two are over 300 yrs. Many of the trees in both collections were
partially rotten, too.

What I like about Blanton so much is that it is large enough to 'naturally
absorb' disturbance. A few of the large rock outcrops, like the one that
caps the 70' Sand Cave, were burned over some time in the last 100 yrs, I'd
guess. The forest is recovering nicely - oaks, red maple and other spp are
now in the sapling stage. Yet, if one moves just below or to the side of
these burns, one can find old trees. It is a functioning forest! At least it
was prior to the arrival of HWA, documented less than a yr ago.

It is a wonderful forest:

See it when you can.