Fork, GSMNP, NC
04, 2006 19:25 PST
A few weeks ago, Will Blozan and I hiked the Bradley Fork and
Flats trails along Bradley Fork. The stream begins on the main
of the Smokies at about 5900' elevation, and flows south for a
under ten miles before emptying into the Oconaluftee River above
Cherokee, North Carolina. Above approximately 3000', the
avoided logging, and in that area, streams maintain surprisingly
gradients between high, steep sided ridges.
The Bradley Fork Trail co-opts an old roadbed, and for the first
miles closely parallels its namesake stream. Black birch,
and pockets of hemlock line the stream. The sycamores include
old, remnant trees bypassed when the area was cut. Storms have
consistently snapped the tops of those trees leaving them to
and become living tubes with bases over four feet diameter. The
younger sycamores have reached about 125', and a few tuliptrees
them in height. However, the second growth forest along the
generally appears only moderate in vigor and richness.
The Cabin Flats trail cuts along the slopes by Bradley Fork, and
passes through ancient forest before reaching the previously
namesake flat, which has been converted to a backcountry
Old hemlocks showing adelgid induced decline grow below the
old tuliptrees with deeply furrowed bark extending onto the
contorted limbs that top their columnar trunks grow on both
the trail. Chestnut oaks also creep down the slope above the
suggesting that despite the sheltered environment growing
Upstream from the trails, rhododendron closes in on the
slopes steepen, and rock outcrops jut to the waters edge making
arduous. Small, sheltered flats along that section of stream
contained old trees, but none nearly as large as grow at
elevation and topography elsewhere in the park. The first
in that stretch, Louie Camp Branch, has more open forest. Yellow
buckeye, yellow birch, black birch, and basswood flank the
a witch hobble (Viburnum alnifolium) understory, and hemlock and
rhododendron cover the low, parallel, north-facing slope.
is strangely absent from the stream given the 3200 to 3700'
elevations. Again, the forest does not appear disturbed, but
are surprisingly small. A 135' basswood and a 142' white ash
only trees on Louie Camp Branch of noteworthy heigh.
The Dry Sluice Trail provided a convenient means of returning to
Bradley Fork. The lower part of the trail descends along
Branch. Tuliptrees over four feet dbh are common along the
a 169.8' tree appears to be an anomaly.
Around 2900' elevation, one second-growth grove on Bradley Fork
appeared to contain much faster growing trees than anywhere else
the stream. The grove occupies a bench above Bradley Fork, and
small, shallow coves separated by a steep ridge. The whole area
west, and was cleared 70 to 100 years ago, probably towards the
end of that range. Tuliptree dominates, as usual, with many
and black locust mixed in the canopy, and many more locust
the forest floor. Some hophornbeans grow on the ridge, but the
generally lacks a midstory and understory. All of the trees
below grow in this stand.
Species Cbh Height
Basswood 3'4" 127.7'
Basswood 6'4" 136.1'
Basswood 5'7" 138.0'
Basswood 4'7" 138.6'
Basswood 6'0" 140.4'
Basswood 4'1" 140.9'
Locust, Black 5'3" 141.8'
Locust, Black 6'6" 151.8'
Magnolia, Cucumber coppice 138.1'
Oak, Northern Red 6'9" 140.5'
Tuliptree 10'2" 153.6'
Tuliptree 8'8" 159.7'
Tuliptree 7'3" 162.8'
Tuliptree 10'11" 165.6'
Tuliptree 8'0" 171.6'
Jess Riddle & Will Blozan