03, 2002 12:12 PDT
Thursday I had the
privilege of participating in the Envirothon
sponsored by Hampshire College. As one of the designated
naturalists I led a
group of 11 standout high school seniors who came from as far
Alaska. We followed the trail up from the Half Way House to the
Mt. Holyoke (942 feet) and then beyond to a burn site. With the
over 100 degrees on the rocky summit, I got a case of heat
took a couple of cold packs and plenty of water, but I got down
under my own
The trail from
the Half Way House to the summit goes through a swath
of old growth that I hadn't previously mapped. In fact, there is
a strip of
old growth that generally follows the escarpment all the way to
Norwottuck and beyond to Long Mountain. The strip isn't
unbroken, but may be
over 100 acres when taken all together. The ridge line runs for
miles. Assuming that the swath of old growth runs for half the
distance and averages a mere 250 feet in width, we arrive at 106
this may be too much, but I seriously doubt there is less than
75 acres in
the strip for the whole range. Ages of the trees that I saw are
yet to be
determined. Dr. David Orwig of Harvard Forest and I will visit
on Aug 23rd to take cores. Oh my goodness, I hope it is cool.
inspection, the ages of the hemlocks, northern red oaks,
chestnut oaks, and black birch appear to vary from 150 to 250
However, the black birch on the trail from the Half Way to the
are some of the oldest I've seen. There may be plenty over 200
The old growth in the Holyoke Range starts at the steep section
mountain and goes to the ridge top. However, the best of it is
the base of the escarpment where protection, soil depth, and
water are at their highest.
Aging trees by
eye on rocky ridge tops is always a risky
proposition. The abundant light from frequent disturbances and a
low canopy allow for initially faster growth. The overall harsh
then lead quickly to stunting and aging. Very old looking red
oaks can be
175 years old instead of 300. We'll just have to wait and see.
Just past the Half Way House on the way
to a Taylor Notch and down the
ridge grow some extraordinary trees of the environment. I
spotted a tall
white ash this past Thursday and went to measure it along with
surrounding hemlocks. The trees proved to be as good as they
hemlocks I measured proved to be (114.1, 8.2) and (115.1, 8.4).
scaled out at (117.3, 7.2). The data pairs includes height and
are red oaks and sugar maples that will just reach 100 feet in
the area. My
guess is that the Rucker index for Mt Holyoke will prove to be
23, 2002 15:55 PDT
Rising to a height of 940 feet above sea
level and 840 feet abruptly
above the Connecticut River, the views from the summit are
Cole, the great pasinter from the Hudson River School saw fit to
scene from the summit. The Holyoke House at the summit was once
Built originally in 1821 and rebuilt in 1851, history oozes from
in the building.
There is a lot of natural history to
enjoy in the Holyoke Range. The
basalt ledges are very scenic and the vegetation is varied. And
now, we have
a historic forest we can tell visitors about. Today, Mike Smythe,
Supervisor, Dr. David Orwig from Harvard Forest, Susan Benoit of
Mohawk Trail State Forest and Friends of the Holyoke Range, and
cored (Dave did) hemlocks, black birches, and nortehrn red oaks.
plenty of ages in the 200 year age range and a couple around
250. We haven't
even scratched the surface. There's a lot of work to do.
In terms of big trees, yes, we found
some dandies. The following lists
Species Circumference Height
HM 11.9' 99.5'
HM 11.5' 116.3'
HM 9.6' 112.2'
BB 6.4' 101.1'
BB 8.6' 89.4'
The hemlock is the second tallest I've
measured in the Connecticut River
Valley region. The black birch is also the tallest in the
Mt. Holyoke is loaded with old black
30, 2002 15:33 PDT
The Mt. Holyoke Range
continues to produce old growth forest for us.
Today, my son Rob and I combed the west side of Mount Holyoke
Connecticut River has what may turn out to be a 25 to 30-acre
swath of old
growth hugging the cliff face and spotty on the top. Tree ages
red oak, chestnut, and white oak, shagbark, bitternut, and
hemlock, black birch and assorted other species will commonly
150 and 250 years of age. Occasionally, a tree will exceed 300
commercial value of these stunted cliff face forests is near
cutting was probably never a temptation. What is especially neat
area are the many niches and micro-habitats. They abound above,
on the basalt ledges. So there will be pockets of possibly much
to be found. But many trees 200 years old and older is a given.
We have a
lot of looking to do.
Based on what we've confirmed so far, I
estimate that the entire range
has around 100 acres of OG, perhaps more. Teasing out the age
will be a labor of love. The Holyoke Range OG and that on the
Tom Range may well eventually exceed 150 acres. The search area
Holyoke Range covers about 750 acres and they are rugged acres.
Holyoke Range covers between 4000 and 5000 acres. If we are able
100 acres of old growth, that will represent a survival of 2.2%
range. Considering that only a small part of the 100 acres is of
quality, perhaps 30 acres, that represents 7/10th of one percent
survived. Remembering that the 30 acres is in steep terain, that
is not a
difficult figure to accept.
Regardless of the exact nature of the
impacts of Europeans on the Mt.
Holyoke Range forests, we still have a witness forest that
looked down on
the valley for 200 years and more. Quite a exciting prospect and
rugged little Mt Holyoke has been all along. Plenty of old
snubbed by Burl-belly because it was in the valley close to lots
Have I learned my lesson? Probably not, but at this instant, I'm
on Mt Holyoke OG
31, 2002 05:13 PDT
The great Hudson River School of Art
painter Thomas Cole, painted a
scene of Mount Holyoke. For many of us, it is beyond being just
work of art. Cole's paintings capture the spirit of the land.
impressionistic style of the Hudson River School represents the
of art in America for me. As Cole was capturing the spirit of a
didn't distort its physically features as to make it
was able to thread the needle between factual representation of
features and the soul of a place.
Well, as I said in my prior e-mail,
there stands Mt. Holyoke with its
undetermined amount of old growth, just a stone's throw away
from my front
door step. At this point I'm not expecting to find a cach of
super old trees
on the range, just a lot of "medium old" trees. I
think, if they were there
super old ones, someone would have discovered them previously.
always think that. Don't we all? But surely someone in the past
trees on the range. The concentration of academics in the area
potential interest is staggering. You can see the University of
Massachusetts from the summit of Mount Holyoke. Amherst, Smith,
and Mount Holyoke colleges are also very close by - just with
ostentatious buildings. Beyond the five colleges, there are four
four-year colleges and three community colleges within 20 miles
the crow flies. There is a concentration of brain power in the
that surrounds Mt Holyoke that probably surpasses any other
area in the Commonwealth.
So why the confirmation of the OG now?
The problem may be the lack of a
model to apply. No one has an age structure model in his/her
even in his/her head for a dry ridge top and basalt ledge forest
grows on Mount Holyoke and Mt Tom. We don't know what an old
covering dry basalt ledges and ridge tops is supposed to look
like. Rob and
I certainly saw plenty of old, stunted trees yesterday. A few
character, but most were nondescript and that may be the
I remember when Lee Frelich showed me a
dry oak forest, virgin in the
usually meaning of the term, in the upper elevations of the
Mountains. A light went off in my head. Whoa, I thought to
forest would be dismissed by all but the most knowledgeable. It
stand out in any way. No big trees. No conspicuously (the
old looking trees. No large amount of dead wood. Few conspicuous
mounds. The dry Porkies virgin oak forest would have failed
perfunctorily applied by a student with a checklist of old
characteristics. I knew then that I would have to add new mental
old growth that I carried in my head. The development of the dry
stunted oak forest is in the process of being worked out. Maybe
Larry Winship of nearby Hampshire College will join Gary Beluzo,
and me to develop such a model. Truthfully, I haven't a clue as
to where to