Return to Mount Logan, PA Edward Frank
June 05, 2009

Return to Mount Logan

June 04, 2009.  I revisited Mt. Logan natural Area accompanied by Lin Greenaway.  Lin is an ENTS member and a forester with the Pa. Bureau of Forestry.  I first visited Mt. Logan in October 2007.   Mount Logan is a state forest Natural Area located in central Pennsylvania just south of the town of Lock Haven.  The location is described on the PADCNR website as:  "A 512-acre tract features an old growth eastern hemlock stand and an outcrop of Tuscarora sandstone, both near the summit."   This is almost correct.  The rock outcropping at the hilltop is the Tuscarora Quartzite, a metamorphic rock, not sandstone.    Geologically the ridge containing Mt. Logan is at the westernmost edge of a large anticline/syncline series know as the Ridge and Valley Province where it adjoins the Allegheny Plateau.   These massive folds formed in the Carboniferous Era, 300-350 million years ago, during the Allegheny Orogeny when Gondwana (specifically what became Africa) and what became North America collided, forming Pangaea.

Annotated air photo of the area showing the geologic structure.  Mount Logan is in the center of the image immediately below Route 220.

What most impressed me the first trip was not the somewhat stunted white pine and hemlocks atop the mountain, but were the bent old trees growing on the massive talus slope on the south side of this east-west oriented ridge.  Some of the trees on the summit were reportedly cored to ages over 200 years. Many of the trees growing in the talus slope are in my opinion every bit as old as those at the top, if not older..  On the first trip I collected some height measurements, but lost my camera.  In the case of these types of trees it is not so much the height and girth of the trees that are impressive, both are relatively small, but it is their form that is of interest.  The goal today was to explore more of the site and to retake photos of the site missing from the first trip.

I met Lin just south of the site.  We carpooled taking her state vehicle up the rough and rocky Kammerdiner Trail.  There is a nice parking spot just before the trail jogs abruptly to the east.  The day was beautiful.  It was sunny but still cool after several days of cold drizzle. We parked and walked from the parking area down the trail/road to the start of the rocky footpath that is the Winchester Trail.  This section of the road crosses a topographic saddle between ridges to the north and south, and valleys to the east and west.  What is significant about this saddle is a series of large vernal pools along the south side of the road.  I am sure I noticed them the previous trip, but they did not make it into my consciousness.  Vernal pools are defined by the PA Game Commission as: “Seasonal pool wetland ecosystems, known commonly as "vernal ponds," are isolated from streams, rivers, and other bodies of water and characterized by a seasonally fluctuating water level, often drying out completely for some part of the year. Vernal ponds are often small, seemingly "minor" waterbodies that are particularly important to amphibian populations.” Unfortunately we did not have time to examine the vernal pools in detail, but I grabbed some photographs. Lin found a salamander near a puddle in the road as we walked along this stretch. 

Vernal Pool with a newly fallen pine log.

The Winchester Trail is a blue blazed leads straight up the mountainside gaining 500 feet in a short distance to the mountain top along the western edge of the natural area. The first section of the trail rises gently through a younger second growth forest.  This area had been cut in the early 1900’s, but had not been reworked since. 


A pair of red oaks on either side of the Winchester Trail.

Soon the toe of the talus slope proper is reached.  The talus consists of quartzite rocks from cobble to boulder sized, generally ranging from 2 to 6 across and flattened.  These talus slopes are a periglacial feature dating from the last ice age.  General mass-wasting processes, and freeze/thaw cycles would separate the rock along cleavage planes formed during metamorphosis and deformation of the Tuscarora Quartzite. These freed rock fragments then fell, rolled, slid and creeped down the grade to form a large talus slope. Similar talus slopes are also present along the north side of the ridge in some areas.  The talus piles are at approximately the natural angle of repose for material at 42.4% (23 degrees).  This means that the pile is for the most part stable, with only a slow amount of creep occurring over time.   There is limited vegetative cover on much of the talus slope on the southern side of the ridge and scattered open barren areas. 

White Pine tree growing on the talus slope.  In my estimate and Lin concurred, this tree is easily 200 years old.  Height 65.3 feet, girth 6' 1"

On this talus are the dominant tree species in the short canopy were yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis), red oak (Quercus rubra), red maple (Acer rubrum), chestnut oak (Quercus Montana), and white pine (Pinus strobus).    In the understory striped maple (Acer pennsylvanicum) and mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) were prominent.  It was surprising that red oak was more common in the talus slope than chestnut oak.  American chestnut (Castenea dentate) was also fairly common in the understory. Many other species including cherry, common serviceberry or juneberry (Amelancher arborea), black gum (Nyssa sylvatica), and butternut (Juglans cinerea) were present in lesser numbers or occasionally on the talus slope.  Near the top on the south side were a scattered handful of eastern hemlock and even sassafras.  Ground cover in the talus field was sparse.  There were various lichens growing on the rocks themselves – rock tripe, reindeer moss – and various other unidentified crustose, squamulos, fruticose, and foliose lichens.  Some species can only be identified through chemical analysis.  Various mosses, patches of huckleberry, hay scented fern, currants, and Virginia creeper were also present on tiny pockets of soil.


On the original trip I only measured a few individual trees. 







White pine

65.3 ft

6' 1"

77' 22.118

41' 07.512

Yellow birch

51 ft.

4' 6"

77' 22.116

41' 07.544

Red oak

57.5 ft.

7' 9"

77' 22.122

41' 07.548

Chestnut oak

45 ft.

4' 7"

77' 22.103

41' 07.576


On this one I just measured a butternut.   It was located along side of the trail in the talus slope.  The tree appeared to be healthy and we could not see any signs of canker.  The Butternut canker disease,is caused by the introduced fungus Sirococcus clavigignenti-juglandacearum. In some areas, 90% of the Butternut trees have been killed.

Butternut tree. Height 74 feet(looking up), Girth 4' 11"








74 ft

4' 11"

77' 22.136

41' 07.384


I am not sure how to deal with this situation.  The trees are stunted, some more than others.  Some of the trees that have the most character, the ones that appear to be among the oldest, are neither the largest nor the smallest of the trees present.  I could go back again when I have more time and try to develop a Rucker Index for just the talus slope area, but with the irregular heights I am not sure what is gained by a Rucker Height Index.  The focus on height for sites like these does not seem to be meaningful.  Perhaps a Rucker Girth Index would better represent the features I am seeing.  There really needs to be some better way the evaluate sites with old but stunted forests than we have in our repertoire presently.

Birch.  The tree is slanted because of movement of the rock substrate during the life of the tree.  The branches are again curving upward after the tree tilted.

Once we reached the toe of the talus slope we spent more time looking at the trees present.  The red oaks and chestnut oaks were being heavily hit by gypsy moths.  The moth caterpillars were present everywhere.  In many of these oaks as much as 90% of the canopy had been eaten.  Small fragments of leaves covered the floor under the oak trees.  While walking along it sounded almost like a light rain as the debris and droppings from the caterpillars fell from above. The gypsy moth had not been present on my previous trip in fall 2007, or at least it was not present in numbers to be noticeable.  The effect on this particular forest could be drastic.  These trees are small and stunted because they are already growing in less than optima conditions.  The additional impact of the gypsy moth will add additional stress to their existence and may cause a high mortality rate among these old trees.  When you look at the thick bark, heavy branches, and often bent form of these trees and think of the length of time they have managed to eek out an existence, it seems unfair that their life could be ended by an invasive insect infestation.   


Chestnut Oak.  Lin is some distance in front of the oak and this distorts the size relationship.  The tree is 45 feet tall and 4' 7" in girth.  The branch pattern is that of a open grown tree because the rock slope is a generally open patchy setting.

While in the talus slope area I took a number of pictures of trees that are representative of those living there.  Given time I could find hundreds of trees much like the ones photographed growing in the talus.  At the moment this is the best way I can figure out to document what  is present on the site. 


View of the Tuscarora Quartzite outcrop.  Lin is for scale.

At the top of the slope the hill flattens out for a short distance.  At the crest of the mountain is  a ridge 20 to 25 feet high of Tuscarora quartzite forming  a spine running east-west down the length of the mountain.  It is beige to bright white in color.  This is the same unit that outcrops to form Seneca Rocks in West Virginia. 

Small white pines, hemlock, oaks, mountain laurel, and birches grow atop the rock. There were scattered examples of other species including among others cherry (sp.), American chestnut, red maple, and pitch pine .  It is on the north side of this ridge outcrop that the old growth conifers had been described in previous published reports. One source was by Charles Fergus in "Natural Pennsylvania - Exploring the State Forest Natural Areas."  Chuck Fergus is a well know Pennsylvania outdoor writer who has authored many field guides for the state and had a long time column in the Pennsylvania Game News.  According to his report there was a patch of about fifty acres of old growth surrounded by younger second growth trees.  Mr. Fergus had reported in his article that a former forester had told him that hemlocks in this area had been cored to over 200 years.   I also had read an account of the area by Marcia Bonta - also a PA outdoor write with a current column in the PA Game News.  One my first trip I pushed into the thicket at the edge of the quartzite outcrop and found the edge of this old-growth patch. Ernie Ostuno had visited the site in July 2004.  He reported, “The old growth is only about two or three acres in extent and consists of about 15 hemlocks and a few maple and yellow birch. The old growth is located near the top of the western slope of the headwaters of a stream valley, and less than 100 yards northeast of the ridge where an outcrop of "tuscarora sandstone" occurs. 

I would disagree with Ernie Ostuno’s assessment and would expand the old growth forest area to include much of the forest on the talus sloe itself, and portions of the hemlock/pine forest on the northern side of the ridge.  It is possible that this area was bypassed on his trip and that the area he described is another location on the ridge.  On neither trip have I had the time to explore the boundaries of the old growth forest patch.  Certainly there are stunted younger trees atop the ridge and these may be difficult to distinguish from actual old growth trees.  I would like to see the area more fully explored with a modicum of tree coring done to better establish an age structure for the site.  There is no evidence I could see that the trees on the top of the ridge and on the talus slope itself have ever been harvested.  The younger age of the trees in some of these areas may be because of forest fires or other natural disturbances rather than human activity.  This area could very well be a primary forest system dating back to when the area was first forested thousands of years ago, even if some of the trees themselves are not that old.  Perhaps with tree ring analysis a fire history could be developed for the site and help answer some of the questions


Small white pine tree and low hemlock atop the ridge.  There were indications of porcupine activity on several of these trees.  White-tail deer droppings were found on the talus slope.  Timber Rattlesnakes are known to be present in this area but none were encountered on this trip.

Lin and I explored the top of the ridge briefly but did not have the time to explore beyond the edges of the outcrop before we had to leave.  The trip down the mountain and back to the vehicle were uneventful. 

 Edward Frank

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