Allegheny River Islands Wilderness Expedition: Warren, Buckaloons, Thompson Island   Dale Luthringer
  Sep 12, 2007 15:32 PDT 


Ed Frank, Tony Kelly, and I spent Labor Day Weekend on a tree measuring
expedition down the Allegheny River via canoe to document tall and
noteworthy trees within the Allegheny River Islands Wilderness Area. It
was an incredible 4 day trip down what the French called, La Belle
Riviere, and what a magnificently beautiful river it is. It had been
probably 10 years since I last canoed the stretch we were going to be
on, and the first time I had been on it since I caught the old growth
forest/big tree bug back in 1997.

The U.S. Forest Service supplied a brief explanation of the islands we
were about to explore:


“Seven islands in the Allegheny River, totaling 368 acres, are part of
the Allegheny Islands Wilderness. All are alluvial in origin, which
means they were formed by water-carried deposits of sand, mud and clay.
They are characterized by river bottom forest trees such as willow,
sycamore and silver maple. The islands are located between Buckaloons
Recreation Area and Tionesta, PA. They are: 
  • Crull's Island (96 acres) has large old river bottom trees.
  • Thompson/s Island (67 acres) The only Revolutionary War battle in
    northwestern Pennsylvania occurred on this island. It has an
    exceptionally fine riverine forest.
  • R. Thompson's Island (30 acres)
  • Courson Island (62 acres) The island may be viewed from the Tidioute
  • King Island (36 acres) has good riverine forest with many trees 35-50
    inches in diameter.
  • Baker Island (67 acres) stood in the path of one of the two tornadoes
    which crossed the Forest on May 31, 1985. Most of the trees were blown
    over in the storm.
  • No Name Island (10 acres) is about half river-bottom trees and half
    dense undergrowth.”

  • -----------------------

    Please review Dr. Gordon Whitney’s excellent review of this area on

    There is also a rich history associated with these islands:

    especially on Thompson Island, where a small Revolutionary War battle
    was fought.

    Here is an excellent map link to the islands:

    aiw3.jpg (154398 bytes) small version of large pdf maps

Ed and I met Sunday evening, 9/2/07, at the Buckaloons Recreation Area
where we set up our base of operations. After we set up camp, we took
off to inspect Will Blozan’s old moss cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera `
Squarrosa' record along Irvine Run, after we were told by the camp hosts 
that it was no longer standing.  Well, it’s still standing. It has grown 
to 85.1ft high, which I believe is now the tallest on record for Pennsylvania, 
if not the NE U.S.

We then headed upstream to investigate big tree reports in the nearby
town of Warren, courtesy of Kirk Johnson. The first place we stopped
was to measure a nice Am. Elm on 5th Avenue & Water Street, which turned
out to be a respectable 13ft CBH x 91.4ft high. It was in pretty good
condition. We then measured a decent pin oak that caught our eye on 4th
Avenue to 12ft CBH x 82.4ft high. We next met Tom Paquette who
requested his large N. red oak on 2nd Avenue be measured which topped
out at a nice 16.4ft CBH x 95.4ft high. Tom then pointed us down the
road a piece to nice European copper beech that went to 15.9ft (waist
measured at 2ft, due to swelling of multi-branched trunk above 4.5ft) x
83.6ft high x 95.1ft avg spread for 298 AF Points. Not bad for an
evening’s work. Then it was off to a local watering hole to stock up on
calories for the next day. We were definitely going to need it…

9/2/07   Warren

Species                        CBH                 Height   Comments

American elm                13                     91.4      
European beech             15.9 (at 2ft)       83.6      95.1ft avg. spread

N. red oak                     16.4                  95.4      
Pin oak                         12                     82.4      

SUNP0001a.JPG (85044 bytes)
American Elm
SUNP0008a.JPG (106566 bytes)
Pin Oak
bigoak.jpg (71975 bytes)
large Northern Red Oak
SUNP0011a.JPG (92531 bytes)
European Copper Beech


We woke up early the next morning and made our way past Anders Run
Natural Area, down river to Thompson Island. It was so foggy we
couldn’t see across the river. It was so foggy when we got down to the
put-in point, that I couldn’t tell whether we even had the right island
or not. Thankfully, I took GPS readings a couple of years ago when I
measured some decent sycamore from the road that were on the island’s

thompsona.jpg (44065 bytes)

We were across the river in no time and pulled the canoe up the bank.
It just so happened to be near the base of an Am. basswood, which was
the largest I had ever personally measured, at 11.3ft CBH x 94.4ft high.
We then started to pick our way through the multiflora rose barbwire
undergrowth on our way towards the center of the island, looking for a
new PA sycamore and new NE US hackberry height records. I had earlier
measured a sycamore to 135.3ft a couple of years earlier, but had never
been able to set foot on this island. It appeared there were slightly
taller ones in the center, and we were not disappointed.

elm.jpg (95532 bytes) SUNP0015a.JPG (78400 bytes)
 very old Slippery Elm

We hadn’t gone far when we came upon what appeared to be a very old
slippery elm with deep furrowed bark, twisted branching, and heavy lower
trunk moss layer to 11.2ft CBH x 87.1ft high x 35.9ft avg spread for 231
AF Points. Then, that’s when Ed started getting the eye for fat & tall
hawthorns... the little-big trees that most of us tend to breeze past.
Nearby was a fat double branching hawthorn we measured to 5ft CBH on
the largest branch. The skinniest point below the major branch was
6.1ft at 1.5ft up from the ground. The tree went to a respectable 5ft
CBH x 34.9ft high x 46.5ft avg spread for 107 AF Points.

hawthorn1a.jpg (100007 bytes)
Hawthorn Tree

We reached the center of the island and starting working our way
up-river and into a nice riverine sycamore forest where we were quickly
getting into numerous sycamore in the upper 120 to low 130ft height
class. Ed was first to strike pay dirt when he found a new state height
record for sycamore at 10.6ft CBH x 140ft high. There were a number of
other nice sycamore in the area, but we weren’t able to find another to
top it… on Thompson Island, that is…

SUNP0021a.JPG (110365 bytes) 140 ft sycamore is the one on the right.

We found more hackberry on the island, but weren’t able to find a new
height record for the species. We then worked our way downstream on the
island trying to find our way through a 6-8ft wall of multiflora rose
barbwire fence which then turned into an impenetrable ‘snotweed’ forest.
We ran into a solid wall of Japanese knotweed that ran virtually the
entire width of the island at about 10-15ft high. I could hear a quiet
hum that I couldn’t figure out exactly what it was at first, then it
dawned on me… multitudes of bumble bees were busily pollinated the
snotweed flowers above us. This section of the island was dominated by
tall sycamore and silver maple, probably making it into the 130ft and
115ft classes respectively.

SUNP0033a.JPG (99610 bytes)
 Japanese Knotweed jungle covering the southern halfof the island

We did our best to break into the snotweed jungle, but were thwarted at
every attempt. We attempted an ‘end run’ which led us to a couple of
old high water stream bed channels that cut 6-10ft deep swaths into the
sediment through the snotweed forest. There were nice N. red oaks on
the rivers edge, but we couldn’t get far into the interior of the
snotweed. We did manage to chop a short swath in on the edge of one of
the old streambed channels, to the base of a very nice sycamore that
went to 14ft CBH x 122.1ft high… just a taste of what possibly lay in
the interior.

Ed found a channel that worked our way out the bottom end of the island,
where we bushwhacked back up-river to the canoe, while estimating
sycamore & silver maple heights from the rivers edge into the knotweed
jungle. Most sycamore on the bottom end of the island would go to the
upper 120ft class, with some going just over 130ft. It is very possible
there were taller ones in the bottom center of Thompson Island, but this
will have to wait for a spring trip after the snow and ice had given a
proper beating to the snotweed.

Then for fun, I decided to canoe AROUND the island to make sure we
didn’t miss anything on the fringe. Turns out it wasn’t that much fun
on the upstream paddle. It was a hot day and I only brought one canteen
of water (Bob, the sorriest man in the outfit is the first one to
water!). Ed was going through Mountain Dew like it was going out of
style… I do commend him for the effort. Any lesser man would’ve
committed mutiny after we had gotten half-way upstream the backside of
the island. The Allegheny River is no small river. It easily has 3
times the flow of the Clarion River during its low flow stages, and we
were paddling up small rapids most of the way. Thompson Island is one
of the longest islands on the Allegheny River that tops out at just over
1 mile long and 228 yards at its widest point. This doesn’t count
another ¼ mile long island just upstream that is part of Thompson Island
during low flow. A small diagonal side channel, which was 75% dry when
we portaged through it, separates a small island just upstream from the
main Thompson Island. Needless to say, there were no more ‘1 canteen
days’ for the remainder of the expedition. Two quarts was the bare
minimum per day.

Common understory trees were small white ash, slippery elm, bitternut
hickory, and ironwood. Black locust, black walnut, Am. Basswood, and N.
red oak were dominant on the fringe, but sycamore was clearly the canopy
dominant species when present. Other species that were present but not
measured where choke cherry and shagbark hickory. Thompson Island’s
stats follows:


Thompson Island

Species                        CBH     Height   Comments

Am. Basswood              11.3      94.4      personal largest measure

Am. Basswood              7.8        105.1+
Am. Basswood              9.8        105.1+
Am. Hornbeam              2.5        35.6
Am. Hornbeam              1.2        35.7
Bitternut hickory            5.6        N/A
Bitternut hickory            4.6        96.1+
Bitternut hickory            6.8        104.4
Black cherry                  4.3        88.9
Black locust                  7.2        90.1+
Black walnut                  7.7        107.6
Black walnut                  7.7        110.3
Black willow                  9.9        84.5
Common hackberry        7.2        81.1+
Common hackberry        7.2        83.3
Hawthorne sp.               4.7        N/A
Hawthorne sp.               3.4(2x) 3 3
Hawthorne sp.               3.1        34.4
Hawthorne sp.               5          34.9      107 AF Points
N. red oak                     10.5      N/A
N. red oak                     10.4      78.1+
N. red oak                     13.1      90.1
N. red oak                     13.4      100.4+ 12x100 class
N. red oak                     13.5      102+     12x100 class
Pignut hickory                4.3        90.9
Red maple                     8.8        86.8
Silver maple                   11.3      90.1
Silver maple                   11.2      99.1+
Silver maple                   20.7(5x) 102.1+
Silver maple                   12.7      103.9    12x100 class
Silver maple                   24(7x)   108+
Silver maple                   10.2      110.5
Slippery elm                  11.2      87.1+    “old growth” tree
Sugar maple                   7.8        N/A
Sycamore                      14         122.1    beauty, in knotweed
Sycamore                      N/A       127.6
Sycamore                      9          132.3+
Sycamore                      7.5        134
Sycamore                      6.6        134.1
Sycamore                      9.1        135.1
Sycamore                      7.3        135.5
Sycamore                      8.4        136.8+
Sycamore                      10.6      140       new PA height record, if only for a day…

Vitus sp.                       1.4
Vitus sp.                       1.6        
White ash                     8.2        93.1+
White ash                     9.3        98.5
White ash                     7.3        111.1+

Species present but not measured = choke cherry, shagbark hickory,
staghorn sumac

Invasives = Japanese knotweed, multiflora rose

Thompson Island Rucker Index = 105.34

Species            CBH     Height

Sycamore           10.6      140
White ash           7.3        111.1+
Silver maple       10.2      110.5
Black walnut       7.6        110.3
Am. Basswood    9.8        105.1+
Bitternut hickory  6.8       104.4
N. red oak           13.5      102.1+
Pignut hickory      4.3        90.9
Black locust        7.2         90.1+
Black cherry       4.3        88.9


P.S. future river sections to follow

RE: Allegheny River Islands Wilderness Expedition: Warren, Buckaloons,   Edward Frank
  Sep 12, 2007 16:00 PDT 


Nice write-up of the trip to Thompson Island. I wanted to comment that
I was extremely impressed by the hawthorns. They had an impression of
being very old. Typically these are little bushes, but these were
simply a few of many that were tree sized with trunks of often over a
foot in diameter and twenty to thirty feet high and very gnarled.
SUNP0026a.JPG (109950 bytes)
 Old-growth forest of hawthorn 
SUNP0030a.JPG (90288 bytes)
 4.7' cbh hawthorn tree on the island

As for the Red Oaks. There was another 102+ height 13.0 foot Northern
Red Oak left off the compilation list of trees found on the island. All
of these were found on the eastern shore of the island.

The largest tree found was a multi-stemmed monster of a silver maple on
the list. I found it along one of the water channels cutting through
the knotweed forest covering the southern half of the island. The tree
consisted of a merged mass of perhaps 7 to 9 trunks to a height of 8 to 9
feet high with a circumference of 24 feet and a height of 108 feet plus
(I could not get a good top shot - this was from underneath). Very
impressive tree.

SUNP0037a.JPG (82120 bytes)
 A multi-stemmed Silver Maple among the knotweed jungle

Another tree found was a three stemmed sycamore. Each of the stems were
mirror images of the other and over 8 feet in circumference. 

SUNP0029a.JPG (110971 bytes)

The tallest was in the upper 120's if I recall correctly. Nice island.

Ed Frank

Re: Allegeheny River Islands Wilderness Expedition: Warren,
   Kirk Johnson
   Sep 12, 2007 21:11 PDT 

Ed and Dale,

Thank you for this interesting report.

For those who might not know, an important reason why those seven islands in
the Allegheny River are permanently protected is the work of a
conservationist who happened to grow up in the town of Tionesta, along the
Allegheny River.

Howard Zahniser led The Wilderness Society from 1945 through 1964, and was
the primary author of the federal Wilderness Act of 1964, which established
our nation's National Wilderness Preservation System. The Allegheny Islands
and Hickory Creek Wilderness Areas in the Allegheny National Forest were
designated in 1984 and are part of that system.

Just opposite the southernmost "No Name" wilderness island, along State
Route 62 about two miles north of Tionesta, there is a PA state historical
marker honoring Howard Zahniser:

For those who would like to learn more about Zahniser and his work for
wilderness preservation, there's a bio sketch here:

Glad to see you all were able to get up to Warren too to check out the
residential trees Ed. The elm is taller than I expected, the red oak maybe a
little shorter than I expected. Both beautiful trees.