Chestnut Ridge, ANF, northern PA   Edward Frank
  Sep 15, 2006 20:33 PDT 

Carl Harting and I visited an area known as Chestnut Ridge just east of
route 321 a couple miles east of the Allegheny Reservoir, colloquially
known as Kinzua Dam. 
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 Maps of areas from mapquest
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We parked beside the road and headed into the forest
going east and little southward. We found ourselves in a young second
growth forest. I estimated 30 years, Carl 50 years. It consisted of an
overstory dominated by white oak. The understory was heavily populated by
striped maple, cucumbertree, and American Chestnut. The chestnut trees were
everywhere. Most were less than 20 feet high with some individuals going as
tall as 40 feet. The trunks all were small in diameter. Soon we found an
old overgrown road and decided to follow it across the ridge. The road ran
eastward and slowly curved slightly to the north. Here and there were
larger specimens of American Chestnut, Some reaching an estimated 50 feet.
The tallest we measured was (71.3 feet tall and 2 ˝ feet in circumference).
It is not what I would have expected, but as you walk upon them at first
cucumber trees look remarkably like chestnuts until you are close enough to
discern the differences. Perhaps they have a similar branch pattern, or
leaf out pattern, but at first glance they look very much alike.

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Largest American Chestnut measured.
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[Carl notes:   I'd like to add chestnut oak into the mix of trees that the
chestnuts were associated with. They may not have been quite as numerous 
as the cucumbers and other oaks, but they were definitely there. While the
cucumber and striped maple are missing in the chestnut habitat on the ridges
above the Clarion River, the chestnut and other oaks are present there.
Chestnut oak are also very difficult (at least for me) to differentiate from
American chestnut at a distance, especially when the bark is not visible.
The trio of Am Chestnut, chestnut oak and cucumber at this site was tough to
read quickly. As with the other chestnut sites, the chestnuts were only
found on the ridges, never in the valleys.]

It had been raining earlier in the day, and I had not been sure the trip
would go off as planned. I met Carl at Cook Forest and we car pooled to the
site. I brought my raingear.   It turned out that we avoided most of the
showers and had a pleasant day for the walk. It had rained for several
days. Mushrooms and fungus were growing everywhere. There were numerous
frilly orange unidentified species, browns, white, purples and reds. I saw
at least two varieties of coral fungus.

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From there we continued along the road looking for taller specimens with
little luck. After a short distance we arrived at a dirt and gravel road
trending north. We followed this road and began a slow descent from the
ridgetop. As we descended the types of trees changed to one containing more
red oaks, maples, and a few tuliptrees and bigtooth aspen. We stopped and
measured a couple of them, but no records were set. I was still amazed at
the variety of fungi growing in the area.    Even in this out of the way
stretch of road there were still occasional piles of trash down th hill
slope from the road. One had a number of cans and several plastic 5 gallon
plastic buckets.

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Dead tree with fungus growth

As we approached the bottom of the hill a stream grew nearer to the road.
In the bottom portion of this journey we started to find some hemlock,
hornbeams and a few others. At this point we decided the road was not going
the correct direction as shown on my GPS unit map, so we took off and headed
cross country westward. Route 321 was a little over a half mile in that

[Carl notes:   the heights of the small area of taller trees, and mention
that this forest was older than that found on the ridge top (at least it
looked a good bit older to me, especially with the red maple having the
shaggy bark and the large oaks were found as we were climbing out of the

tallest chestnut CBH 2ft 6in   height 71.3 feet

tulip CBH 8ft 2in height 125.1ft

white ash CBH 4ft 8in height 114.5ft

bigtooth aspen CBH 4ft 9 in height 96.1ft

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Tree with a series of branches growing out of its side from epicornic sprouts.
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Roadside Plant:  Alianthus?

A short distance into the woods we cam across a stream. It did not look
very wide or deep, but was flowing pretty rapidly. We decided to cross anyway. 
Going cross-country was not the best idea I ever had. All of the elevation we l
ost up to that point, was regained in this single climb. I had to stop several times
and catch my breath, those overhangs are murder. During one of those pauses
a hawk flew down from a tree very agitated near Carl, but did not see it 
engrossed in the examination of a tree on the hillside. It flew off.

Once we reached the top, it was a a fairly straightforward shot back to
route 321. On the flats we again started to encounter striped maple,
cucumbertree, and chestnut. Here also were some tuliptrees and beeches,
with overstory white and red oaks. I wondered about the association between
the striped maple, cucumbertree, and American chestnut. It seemed to be the
norm here, but was not the same at other chestnut locations we had visited.
Perhaps it was coincidental. Soon we were back at the road. It was a short
walk along the highway back to the car. We arrived just as the rains
started to fall.

Immediately south along the road we turned into the the Tracy Ridge
Campground for a quick drive through on the same ridge for a quick look.
The place had hundreds of American Chestnut trees. Most were small, a
couple we saw from the car might have reached 50 feet. Given the number we
saw, and the fact that wee found a 71+ footer elsewhere on the ridge, it
would be worthwhile to revisit the campground area for a reconnaissance of
chestnuts and other trees present. From here we head back to Cook Forest
and on to home.

This was our trip more or less. Nothing really exciting or unusual
happened. We found some interesting forest, but nothing really old or big.
This had to be the densest population of American Chestnut I had ever seen.
Some reports suggested in areas that American Chestnut had made up to 70% 
of the basal area in given stretches of the forest. None of the trees looked
mature enough to produce nuts and were likely root sprouts. If the blight
doesn’t get them they may produce nuts in a few years. With such a high
density of trees there is even a good chance of pollination from other
individuals and the production of viable nuts. Keep your fingers crossed.

Ed Frank

Sept 14, 2006