Jacks River, GA   Jess Riddle
  Jan 18, 2005 18:11 PST 

The Jacks River drains the eastern part of the Cohutta mountains in
north-central Georgia. The largest wildness area in GA includes the more
rugged lower half of the watershed while the gentler upper half of the
drainage lies on other Forest Service land and a few private parcels. In
wet years, over 100 inches of precipitation feed the river's headwaters on
Flat Top Mountain, which coalesce and flow through a series of beaver
ponds and beaver meadows before reaching the private settlement above the
wilderness boundary. Below that point, a hiking trail snakes back and
forth across the river through tunnels of rhododendron and hemlock and
white pine forest. Much of the trail follows the old railroad grade left
by the Conasauga Lumber Company, which thoroughly logged the lower Jacks
River and the adjacent Conasauga River. Smaller logging operation and
later Forest Service clear cuts have resulted in second and third
generation forests of varied ages covering the upper reaches of the

About a week ago, a friend who is very knowledgeable about the Cohuttas
took my dad and I to two of the finest hemlock stands he knows of in the
area, both in the upper part of the Jacks River basin. One stand occupies
a small cove that drains northwest directly into the West Fork Jacks
River. An old roadbed parallels the small stream, and the hardwood
component of the stand, consisting primarily of tuliptree, black birch,
and scattered sassafras, appears young; however, several of the large
hemlocks probably exceed 300 years old, and some older oaks remain on the
adjacent drier slope. As usual, rosebay rhododendron fills the understory
beneath the hemlocks, and grades into mountain laurel on the west facing
slope. This stand probably contains a taller hemlock than the current
145.5' best for the species in the Cohuttas, and may contain a tree over

Conasauga Creek supports the other hemlock stands we visited. To the
west, the steep sides of Cowpen Mountain (4151') shelter the stream, and,
to the east, a low ridge separates the creek from West Fork Jacks River.
The upper part of one tributary contains uncut forest that includes the
tallest known black birch in the state (105.8') and a 140.3' pignut
hickory, and several small patches of uncut hemlock remain along the
relatively low gradient main stem of the stream. Of those patches, the
largest and lowest one, which spills across the lower Forest Service
property boundary, is by far the most impressive. Rather than just a
group of hemlocks that were left when the area was logged, this stand
appears entirely uncut. Old hemlocks grow in a flat along the creek and
on the adjacent steep slopes. Old white pines are a major component of
the canopy on the slopes while black birch tuliptree and some red maples
mix with the hemlocks in the stream flat. American holly forms a sparse
midstory, and rosebay rhododendron thrives in the shady understory. Most
of the hemlocks along the creek appear to be in the 120's for height with
a few reaching the 130's. White pine heights often reached the 140's, but
with more variability in height than the hemlocks.

Cbh Height Stream - Species
8'2" 89'+ Conasauga Creek Black Birch
11'6" NA Conasauga Creek Eastern Hemlock
11'7" NA W. Fork Jacks R. Eastern Hemlock
11'8" NA Conasauga Creek Eastern Hemlock
11'9" NA Conasauga Creek Eastern Hemlock
11'9" NA Conasauga Creek Eastern Hemlock
12'0" NA Conasauga Creek Eastern Hemlock
12'4" NA Conasauga Creek Eastern Hemlock
12'8" NA Conasauga Creek Eastern Hemlock
13'1.5" NA Conasauga Creek Eastern Hemlock
13'5" NA Conasauga Creek Eastern Hemlock
13'11" NA Conasauga Creek Eastern Hemlock
14'9.5" 141.0' W. Fork Jacks R. Eastern Hemlock
4'3" ~62' Conasauga Creek American Holly
11'1" NA Conasauga Creek E. White Pine
11'2" NA Conasauga Creek E. White Pine
NA ~128.1' Conasauga Creek E. White Pine
NA ~140.0' Conasauga Creek E. White Pine
12'2.5" 152.6' Conasauga Creek E. White Pine
2'5" NA Conasauga Creek Rosebay Rhododendron
5'4" 112.0' W. Fork Jacks R. Sassafras

The black birch, while not record size, is unusually massive for north
Georgia. We measured most of the large hemlocks on Conasauga Creek, so
the above list gives a good idea of the size distribution present.
Fortunately, hemlock woolly adelgid is still over 25 miles east of the
Cohuttas. With a 49' average spread, the hemlock on the West Fork ties
for the highest point total of any forest grown hemlock I know of in north
GA. The current height record tree for the state, a 13'3" x 159.0'
individual in the Chattooga watershed, also achieves 330 points. The
current state champion, if it's the tree I'm thinking of, is an open grown
individual with a short, 18'+ cbh, single stem that divides into a
multitude of codominant and suppressed leaders due to an early injury
(Willard Fell, please correct me if I'm thinking of a different tree).
Another hemlock of similar form in the same area was 19'6" x 124' several
years ago. The largest hemlock on Conasauga Creek is the fifth that I
know of in Georgia that qualifies for the 12 x 150 club. The area
surrounding that tree may include the finest collection of old white pines
in the state; Noontootla Creek supports some comparable forest, but in
smaller stands, Mill Creek also has forest of similar composition with
large, but younger pines; and the well known pines of Cooper Creek are
much more extensive, but also much younger. The arrow-straight sassafras
on the West Fork far exceeds the height of all previously known sassafras
in GA, and appears to still be growing. One other sassafras in the same
cove likely exceeds 100'.

Jess Riddle
RE: Jacks River   Willard Fell
  Jan 19, 2005 05:12 PST 


You're thinking of the right one. The current champ is a rather ugly (in
my opinion) tree with multiple stems as you describe. It is located in a
residential yard in the persimmon valley in western Rabun County.