Lilley Cornett Woods   Dale J. Luthringer
  Feb 17, 2004 16:51 PST 
Bob, Will, Colby,

Last weekend my wife, her sister, and I visited some friends in Jackson,
Kentucky. Actually, I was recruited as official 'chauffeur' for this
east/central Kentucky trip. Somehow, a visit to Lilley Cornett Woods
was inserted into the itinerary. I wonder how that happened?

Regretfully, we were only able to devote a short amount of time within
this ancient forest in southeeastern Kentucky. This forest can only be
viewed by appointment only. Those who wish to venture into this old
growth mixed mesophytic forest must contact:

Robert Watts (Superintendent-Lilley Cornett Woods)
HC 63, Box 2710
Skyline, KY 41851

The following info was taken from a pamphlet produced by the Appalachian
Ecological Research Station of Eastern Kentucky University:

"Lilley Cornett Woods is located in Letcher County Kentucky in the
southeast corner of the state.

Preservation: Foresight and Cooperation

Shortly after WWI, Lilley Cornett purchased the first of five tracts
that today comprise the natural area that bears his name. Lilley
Cornett had many offers to sell the old-growth forest for timber, but he
refused them all while allowing only dead trees (chiefly, blighted
chestnut) to be cut. After his death, his children continued to protect
it as they tried to find an agency that would preserve it.

In July of 1969, the Commonwealth of Kentucky was able to purchase this
forest through the cooperation of several agencies. Funds were provided
by the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, The
Nature Conservancy, and the State.

Additional protection was assured when Kentucky River Coal Company
agreed to grant, free of charge to the Commonwealth, survace mining
rights to over 318 acres inside the boundary of Lilley Cornett Woods.
Virginia Iron, Coal, and Coke Company (VICCO) also ceded their surface
mining rights to the cooperative in avoiding mining operations on
adjoining lands that would adversely affect either the surface or
sub-surface of Lilley Cornett Woods. This cooperation among public and
private agencies provides an example of what can be accomplished for the
public good when everyone participates in a common goal of land

The Setting of Lilley Cornett Woods

All of eastern Kentucky is part of the Appalachian Plateau extending
from southern New York to northern Alabama. In Kentucky, Tennessee, and
Alabama it is more commonly known as the Cumberland Plateau and

This part of Kentucky is also part of the southern Appalachian region
because of the similarities in vegetation, climate, and landscape. The
region refers to the hilly and mountainous areas of 10 states:
Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina,
Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, and Maryland.

The first settler moving into present-day Kentucky in the late 1700's
and early 1800's encountered millions of acres of pristine forest as
they passed through the Cumberland Gap and slowly made their way into
the hills and mountains of eastern Kentucky. They began to clear the
forest along the creeks and rivers for small homesteads. Villages and
towns developed along the larger streams... Later extensive logging
operations supported mining, railroads, and a multitude of other
regional industries throughout the region into the 20th Century.

Although large tracts of uncut forest still existed prior to WWII,
Kentucky had been logged at least once by the 1950's. Over 80% of
eastern Kentucky remains in forest, but it is very different from the
old-growth forests known to the Indians, wolf, mountain lion, and bear.

Lilley Cornett Woods contains the largest preserved remnant of
old-growth forest in Eastern Kentucky."

My thoughts: although current literature put out on Blanton Forest in
Southeastern Kentucky boasts 2350 acres of old growth forest

"In your visit to the Woods, you return to the kind of forest that was
seen by early pioneers. It is a unique "island" of protected forest in
a "sea" of other kinds of land use. It has been designated as a
Registered National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of Interior,
and it is also a Registered Natural Area of the Society of American

Forest Communities

When you walk the trails of Lilley Cornett Woods, you pass through
several plant communities or forest types. Shifts in the predominant
trees occur with corresponding shifts in topography, soils, and subtle
changes in temperature, available sunlight, and water.

In the cooler, more moist parts of the Woods, eht major trees in the
forest canopy are American beech, eastern hemlock, yellow buckeye, white
basswood, sugar maple, and tulip poplar. These parts of the forest
provide the best examples of the "mixed mesophytic forest". On the
drier, more exposed slopes, major trees are white oak, chestnut oak, red
maple, sourwood, and hickories. In these exposed settings, you will
also see a few remaining snags of American chestnut. It was a major
tree in this forest until it was virtually eliminated before WWII by the
chestnut blight. If you are lucky, you may see some shestnut root

Today's young forest of Virginia pine and tulp poplar on lower slopes
and ridges indicate areas that were once cultivated in corn and other
crops. Conversion to these forests began when the land was abandoned
over 40 years ago. You will also see many young trees of these species
in the bottomland pastures along Line Fork Creek. These open areas were
last mown in the early 1970's. Over the next few decades, forest will
replace the pasture. If you visit the Woods over the years, you will be
able to actually see this ecological process of "succession" occurring.

Along Line Fork Creek, the white stems of sycamore indicate that it is
the major streamside tree. Hackberry, slippery elm, and sweetgum
commonly grow with sycamore and in many of the wetter areas.


Numerous wildflowers and shrubs with showy flowers are associated with
the various forest communities. In the mixed mesophytic communities,
trillium, purple phacelia, trout lily, and several kinds of violets are
common spring wildflowers. Trailing arbutus, asters, flame azalea,
mountain laurel, and the rare red azalea are associated with the oak
communites. Where you see eastern hemlock, look for partridge berry,
pink lady's slipper, and white laurel, the large broad-leaved evergreen

There are over 530 species of flowering p[lants at Lilley Cornett Woods.
The flora of the old-growth is typical of deciduous forests in the
sourthern Appalachians. In addition to red azalea, some of the rarer
plants found at the Woods are ginseng, spotted mandarin, and sweet
pinesap. Absence of human disturbance and continued protection will
favor the survival and continuation of this rich display of rare and
common flowering plants."

I'll add further details of the trip on a future post. My fingers need
a break.

more Lilley Cornett Woods   Dale J. Luthringer
  Feb 17, 2004 17:51 PST 
Bob, Will, Colby,

First, the trip into the Woods would not have been possible if it wasn't
for Robert Watts, Lilley Cornett Woods Superintendent. Robert works for
Bill Martin out of Eastern Kentucky University. it sure is a small
world. He gave my wife, her sister, their friend, and I a guided
interpretive walk of the area through part of the old growth where many
trees were eliciting impressive old growth characteristics. He also
said there was close to 550 acres of old growth including ridge tops,
slopes, and possibly some bottomland.

I definitely needed a large handicap to identify some of these southern
species. Similar bark characters to different PA tree species and no
leaves on the trees made it very difficult for me to ID a number of
these southern trees. There a just so many different tree species down
here that it looks like I'd have to take dendrology all over again.
Regardless, Robert helped to add a few more trees to my identification

One of the first trees I couldn't ID was sourwood. It's deeply furrowed
bark resembled chestnut oak up in PA. The next one that got me was
yellow buckeye. Its platy bark resembled that of the sycamore. What a
nice tree. Yellow buckeye and Virginia Pine were two trees here that
I've never observed before. The Virginia Pine had some nice furrows
with a gnarled top. We passed an ancient pitch pine along the way also,
the largest girth I've seen so far. The deep furrows on this tree
resembled the bark character of ancient red pine in Lebo Run N.A. in PA.
There were some ancient white oak in here also. One in particular had a
grotesque gnarled top with deep furrowed and balding bark. The American
holly seedlings on lower slopes were a nice surprise.

I'm afraid I wasn't able to get many good measurements on the heights of
trees. In my opinion, the only tree that showed exceptional height for
this site was the tuliptree. It wasn't hard for Robert to pick up on my
tree measuring escapades as I jumped from tree to tree whipping out my
laser, clinometer, and DBH tape while greatly slowing the group down.
He mentioned that someone was here a year or two ago who was using the
same tools to get heights of trees. He nor I knew who this was, but I
was able to confirm one of this person's measurements on a nice tulip.
Robert said the fellow put this particular tuliptree to ~162ft. I was
only able to get two shots on this tree which put the tree at 163.8ft
and 162.1ft with a 10.2ft CBH. I'd go with the lower one. I just
didn't feel comfortable with my readings. I just don't do well when I
have to 'talk and chew gum' at the same time. There were other tulips
in the area that would've easily broken 140ft.   There may be some other
surprises in adjacent coves.

The list of tree species I was able to document here include the
following: sycamore, tuliptree, sourwood, yellow buckeye, E. hemlock,
black gum, sweetgum, red maple, Am. holly, rhododendron, white oak,
shagbark hickory, pignut hickory, Virginia pine, pitch pine, Am. beech

This is all I was able to get for tree dimensions:

Species            CBH     Height   Comments

Am. beech        ~9ft       106.7    ancient tree
E. hemlock        10         N/A       ~100?, corkscrew branching
Pitch pine          5.5        87.1+    another shot from underneath,
could go to 95ft, resembled ancient red pine bark
Tuliptree            11.5      N/A       short and gnarled, spooning
balding 10ft up from base, deep furrowed bark, twisted top
Tuliptree            10.2      162.1    impressive height, needs more
precise measurement, balding & spooning bark
Virginia pine      4.9        78.1+    might go 90ft, shot from
White oak         8.7        N/A       short gnarled bugger
White oak         11         108.1+ may go to 115, deeply ridged bark,
gnarled twisted limbs, burls

[ed note:  RI5 = 108.4]

This place deserves future documentation. I was very impressed with its
ancient trees along our short hike. Heights and girths weren't really
significant, but the ages were. They had an impressive white oak cross
section at the visitor center. I'd put money on the white oaks in this
forest to go to 300+. If we ever get down to Kentucky again, Lilley
Cornett Woods and Blanton Forest along Pine Mountain near the Cumberland
Gap are definitely on our must see list.


RE: more Lilley Cornett Woods   Dale J. Luthringer
  Feb 17, 2004 17:55 PST 

They had three different magnolias here too:

Umbrella magnolia
Big leaf magnolia

Re: more Lilley Cornett Woods   Dee & Neil Pederson
  Feb 22, 2004 18:12 PST 

  They had an impressive white oak cross section at the visitor
center. I'd put money on the white oaks in this forest to go to

Nice call Dale - you win 100 ENTS bucks. 20 white oaks were cored at
Lilley Cornett Wods in the early 1980s. ~ 1/2 of them have inner ring
dates in the 1710s. Several dated to the late 1600s. The oldest tree
sampled dated to the 1660s. These are minimum tree ages; no estimates
have been made for the number of years to pith and time to reach
coring height.



RE: more Lilley Cornett Woods   Dale J. Luthringer
  Feb 23, 2004 09:20 PST 


From NW Pennsylvania, I'd suggest the following:

From I-79S to I-64W(Charleston, WV)
I-64W to 23S (near Catlettsburg, KY)
23S to 119W or S (near Jenkins, KY)
119W or S to 2035W(not far after Ermine, KY)
2035W to 931S or W (near Dongola, KY)
931S or W to 1103N or W (just before Linefork, KY)
1103N to Lilley Cornett Woods (Skyline, KY)

You will see a small field, nature center, and parking lot on your
right. I suggest you call Robert Watts, superintendent, before hand to
set up an appointment. You can only get into this area by appointment
only at (606)633-5828. I am not sure if there is a fee involved.

I'd get a Kentucky Atlas & Gazetteer also. It easily proved its worth
while negotiating the backcountry Appalachia of southeastern Kentucky:

They won't give you a map of the site, but you probably can request a
pamphlet at:

Lilley Cornett Woods
HC 63, Box 2710
Skyline, KY 41851

Hope you have a nice trip.


RE: more Lilley Cornett Woods   Dee & Neil Pederson
  Feb 23, 2004 18:36 PST 

Hi Dale,

I do not think any other species were sampled at Lily Cornett.

To find some age data from many old-growth sites
in the eastern US you can search the
International Tree Ring Data Bank:

Most of this data was collected for
dendroclimatological research. So, sample size is
often relatively small [20 trees/species] for
each site. However, many of the classic
old-growth sites have been sampled.