Cohutta Wilderness
  Jun 09, 2005 13:19 PDT 

In north-central Georgia and extending slightly into Tennessee, the
Cohutta Mountains form the westernmost part of the Blue Ridge
physiographic province, part to the southern Appalachians. Three of the
mountains reach slightly over 4000’, and give rise to the Conasauga and
Jacks Rivers, which flow through a dissected plateau to the west and
eventually on to the Gulf of Mexico. The 30,000+ acre Cohutta Wilderness
and the contiguous approximately 5,000 acre Big Frog Wilderness protect a
significant portion of the range, and the extensive trail network makes
the area a popular backpacking destination for Atlantans.

The forests of the wilderness area often follow a fairly distinct
pattern. Hemlock, white pine, and rhododendron dominate along the larger
entrenched streams, and Virginia pine also plays a significant role along
the low elevation streams flowing along relatively gentle topography.
Increasing in elevation and sheltering along the streams, white pine
drops out of the mix, but hemlock and rhododendron persist. Still
farther upstream when the streams give way to sheltered north or east
facing coves, tuliptree dominates the canopy, the understory clears, and
the herbaceous layer is often dense. The ridgetops above the coves show
more varied forms, ranging from stands of gnarled remnant white oaks, to
much younger stands of Virginia pine, to nearly pure stands of black
birch, sometimes with dense mountain winterberry and witch hazel

Similar forests occur throughout the Blue Ridge section of
the Georgia mountains, but usually in a less well defined pattern and
with drier ridge tops. The latter condition appears at least partially
responsible for the unusually large concentrations of black birch,
sassafras, mountain winterberry, and witch hazel present throughout the
range. Even though the escarpment that forms the southern edge of the
range contains some of the largest tracts of uncut forests remaining in
north Georgia, railroad logging continuing into the 1930’s thoroughly
cleared the land now in the wilderness area. The operations left small
patches of stunted oaks on the some ridgetops and all of the hemlocks
along a few streams, but forests currently covering most of the
wilderness area are younger than the second growth forest in most other
regions of north Georgia.

A series of hardwood dominated coves drain the east side of the often
nearly level ridge extending north from Cowpens Mountain (4151). The
coves face east or northeast and generally range in elevation from around
3000’ up to 3500-4000’. The overstory ranges from a simple near
monoculture of tuliptree to mixture dominated by tuliptree, sugar maple,
and basswood with significant black cherry, bitternut hickory, and white
ash. Most of the canopy trees appear around 70 years old, but scattered
older trees are present. Sugar maple, rare elsewhere in north Georgia,
forms the understory along with yellow buckeye near the streams. The
consistently diverse herbaceous layers include purple phacilea, a wood
fern, black cohosh, blue cohosh, foamflower, yellow manderin, a trillium,
and several other species.

Species                                  Cbh                Height       
Ash, White                           6’9”                128.0’          
     Slightly older tree
Basswood, White               4’7”                118.7’
Cherry, Black                        2’8”                ~110’           
    130:1 HDR
Cherry, Black                        10’3”                113’+          
     W. side of ridge
Cherry, Black                        4’7”                125.7’
Cherry, Black                        7’9”                137.8’          
     Slightly older tree
Hickory, Bitternut                5’5”                116.6’
Hickory, Shagbark                6’8”                109.5’              
Scarce in N GA
Maple, Sugar                        10’2”                106’+           
    W. side of ridge
Maple, Sugar                        8’10”                110.9’+         
      Remnant Tree
Maple, Sugar                        5’10”                114.3’
Maple, Sugar                        5’9.5”                116.5’
Oak, Northern Red               7’3”                118.0’               
W. side of ridge
Oak, Northern Red               8’3”                123.0’      
Tuliptree                                NA                141.7’        
       W. side of ridge
Tuliptree                                5’11”                143.6’

Cohutta Wilderness Area
Tuliptree                      146.4’
Hemlock                      145.5’
Pignut Hickory           140.3’
White Pine                  140.0’
Black Cherry               137.8’
White Ash                  128.0’
N. Red Oak                 123.0’
Yellow Buckeye         120.8’
Sugar Maple               119.3’
White Basswood       118.7’
Rucker Index               132.0’

The shot on the tallest black cherry was a poor one, and I didn’t see any
other cherries approaching that height, although cherries over 120’ were
common. However, vertical shots with the rangefinder put the tree at
over 130’, so I will stay with that measurement for now. The sugar
maples may not be tall by New England standards, but the current Georgia
height record is only 119.3’. The tuliptrees should add many more feet
with time. For several of the species, taller individuals are known from
adjacent areas, so the Rucker Index probably has significant room for

Jess Riddle

RE: Cohutta Wilderness   James Smith
  Jun 11, 2005 19:01 PDT 

I was living in Gilmer County when efforts were afoot to add more
acreage to the Cohutta Wilderness and create adjacent wilderness areas
(mainly to protect Jacks River).

Because of these efforts, landowners were rabid to shave off as much old
timber as possible before it was too late to do so. When I was in the
tenth grade in high school (1973) my pals and I saw logging trucks
driving out of the forests with loads that consisted of single logs.
We're talking truly enormous trees being cut and hauled out as late as
1975 and 1976. Mainly poplars--but one of my pals lived just at the foot
of the Cohuttas on a Forest Service road and he and his dad saw similar
timber of other types being taken out. Who knows what we lost?

Where were you finding the largest poplars and hemlocks (my favorite
southern trees) in the Cohutta Wilderness? I've hiked over large
portions of the Wilderness, but I never did stumble across any of the
groves of really huge trees. We'd see nice, mature forests, but nothing
truly spectacular--and I know they're in there. Just never managed to
find them.

Re: Cohutta Wilderness
  Jun 13, 2005 10:52 PDT 

The tuliptrees I measured in the Cohutta Wilderness Area last week were
tall, but all young trees. If you've hiked the Sugar Cove Trail, then
you've seen a similar grove. I've never encountered a significantly
older grove on any of the other trails in the wilderness area, but
trailless areas within the wilderness and some adjacent areas still have
uncut groves. The middle section of the Jacks River was logged less
intensely by a different company, so some pockets of older trees survive
in that area. Those patches include the upper part of Hurricane Branch,
which has many old tuliptrees over three feet in diameter. A similar
stand with tuliptrees over 250 years old resides outside the wilderness
area in a Ravine on Betty Mountain. Also south of the wilderness area,
uncut tuliptree groves remain on the west side of Rich Knob. Trails
provide better access to some stands of old hemlocks. The upper part of
the Conasauga River Trail passes by a 15'6" hemlock on Birch Creek. The
lumber company did not clear the old hemlocks that line the creek
upstream from the trail. The Chestnut Lead Trail, on another headwater
of the Conasauga River, also passes through an area where hardwoods were
cut but the hemlocks left. Just east of the wilderness area, a similar
situation occurs on Conasauga Creek, which was described in a post in
January. So, impressive stands of trees still remain throughout the
area, but they certainly do not equal what once grew there.

Jess Riddle