McConnells Mill State Park, Portersville, PA   Anthony M Kelly
  Dec 02, 2005 07:43 PST 

Ents,

This message was originally an email sent privately to Dale Luthringer a little over two weeks ago on Wednesday, November 16, 2005. He suggested that I post it to the ENTS discussion list, so here it is:
3redoak13ft5cbhx.jpg (34513 bytes)

13' 5" cbh red oak


Dale,

I looked over the tree data in your last email. Yes, you'll definitely want to get back to McConnells Mill again sometime. I don't know how much you ENTS folks know about the place, but I get the idea, since I've seen nothing about it on either the ENTS website or in any of the old-growth books, that not many folks are aware of what's there.   

I'm guessing that when you mention "the rock outcrop where the rock climbers go" you mean the one along Rim Road on top of the gorge above the dam. (I think there is at least one other rock climbing area.) I've looked at that area too. There are some nice trees there. I found a white ash just up Rim Road from there with 10'4"CBH. It looked pretty tall, but I still don't have a laser or clinometer, so I can't say how tall (yet). You probably saw a big red oak that's right beside the road near the climbing area. Some of its lower limbs have been trimmed off over the years so that cars could pass. I measured it's CBH at 12.5'. That includes a lot of root flair, though.

Another easily accessible tree is one of the biggest I've found at mcconnells Mill. It is right up the (pretty steep) hill behind the toilets that are near the old mill itself. It is a very large and tall red oak. CBH = 13'5".

My biggest thrills came when I discovered what I you described as the "big woods section." For now, forgive me for being long-winded, but I'll tell you in detail about what I found on my five trips to this area.

On Sunday (Oct 2) I drove up to mcconnells Mill and parked along a road to the North of the park. Maps, satellite photos, and compass in hand I started into the woods heading in the direction of the gorge. I walked about fifteen or twenty minutes through old-fields that have been growing back into forest for about 40 years or so. I crossed an old row of piled field stones and soon realized that I was surrounded by huge old trees! At first there were a few large red oaks, then eventually tulip poplars, cucumber magnolias, and American beaches. I kept walking south and west and the big trees just kept coming!

What amazed me was that I was still traveling on relatively flat, accessible land with no sign of the gorge in sight. From everything we know about why remaining bits of old growth still exist, there is no obvious reason why these trees should still be there. They are not down in the gorge or otherwise in an inaccessible spot. They should have met with the saw ages ago, but there they were!

4fallenoak12ft2cbhx.jpg (40951 bytes)

Fallen Oak 12' 2" cbh

I followed an old path for about another 1/4 to 1/2 mile before coming to the gorge, still surrounded by big oaks, tulips, cucumbers, and beaches. Along the way I had stopped to measure one big oak (black, I think) that had recently fallen.   It measured 12'2" CBH. I didn't try to measure its height, but it didn't seem to be remarkably tall. [Iíve since measured its length. It would have been about 110í+ tall.]

I don't want to give the impression that every other tree there is a giant. I'd be walking along seeing mostly "normal" sized trees, and then suddenly another large old one would appear before me.

I kept following the path until it reached the top of the gorge. There the path forked. The left fork went north, upstream, and down into the gorge itself. The right fork went south-west, downstream, and continued along the top of the gorge. I took the right fork. It followed the gorge for about a quarter of a mile or so then headed back uphill northwards. I stopped here and there to measure trees along the way. I continued along the trail for another 1/4 or 1/2 mile (now going north) before I turned around and headed back. Big trees were still popping up here and there in all directions, not a stump in sight.

I returned to the fork in the trail at the top of the gorge and then took the path on the left end of the fork. It descended along what must have been an old, narrow road down into the steep gorge. It ended up at the bottom coming out to Slippery Rock Creek. Here the trail intersected with the Slippery Rock Gorge Trail. This was right at the place called Walnut Flats. I walked around this low flat area quite a bit. I only found two walnut trees. One walnut, located just where the trail comes off the gorge's steep slopes and onto the flats, looked to be ancient. It measured 10'3" CBH, showed quite a bit of balding, and had thick moss growing far up its trunk. The other was not particularly large it measured 7'9".   

Here on Walnut Flats I found no big trees like I'd seen on the flat area up on top of the gorge. I was disappointed. From my previous study of the topographic maps of the area, I expected this to be the best area. It is basically a piece of flat bottom land surround by steep canyon walls.   

Hanging out over the creek, though, there was an old sugar maple (CBH 9'1") with thick moss running about 20 feet up its trunk.   Across the creek through my binoculars I could see a very large tulip poplar. This tree, unlike a lot of the trees I'd seen earlier, appeared to be tall. I had no way to get across the creek to get a better look, though. These two trees are right along the slippery Rock Creek trail. I'd seen both before on one of my first hikes through the gorge this past summer. I believe that I mentioned them to you already.

By then it was getting to be time to call it a day, so I headed back up the path to the top of the gorge and then on northwards towards the road. As I was coming out to the old stone row at the edge of the old-growth, I looked westward and saw down in the woods what appeared to be a rather large red oak. I couldn't really tell how large it was as I was a good distance away from it.

1redoak13ft9cbhx.jpg (18044 bytes)

13' 9" cbh Red Oak

2redoak13ft9cbhx.jpg (16253 bytes)

13' 9" cbh Red Oak

As I approached, it just kept looking bigger and bigger until I realized as I came right up to it that it was by far the biggest tree I'd seen all day. It was just plain huge! It measured 13'9"CBH. Its trunk goes about 25ft straight up and then starts to branch. It is on flat relatively flat ground and appears to be in fine health. It is, of course, no champion, but is still, nonetheless, an absolutely incredible tree! I am still new to his and not good at estimating heights, but I would probably guess that it is only about 80 or so feet tall.

What I have just described above was only my first day in that area of the park on October 2. Since then, I've gone back to it four times and have spent a good fifteen to twenty hours exploring the old growth there. I still can't say yet that I've seen all of it!

And I'm just talking about this one flat area on top of the gorge and to its north. I noticed from a previous trip in September that there is old-growth scattered through pretty much the entire length of the gorge itself! I haven't yet discovered anything as quite spectacular as what I've found on top, though. Of course, there is still a good bit of the gorge that I haven't been to yet.

On my four subsequent trips I tried to get a general outline of that upper area of the park and the park's borders. I've also tried to delineate the perimeter of the old-growth area on top, the "big woods section" as you called it. I've been able to find the eastern and northern boundaries of the old-growth.

Along its eastern end there is a property line and suddenly a patch of old stumps and only younger trees, marking what appears to be a 60 plus year-old clear-cut. The northern boundary is along the old row of field stones that I mentioned earlier.

To the west it's more complicated. Along the north-western corner there is a ravine that only has young, even-aged trees on its top north-western side, but as you head downhill and south from the top and towards the gorge you encounter big trees again. Like I said before, though, it's not like every other tree is huge. Big trees just pop up here and there. They continue on along the top of the gorge south and westward for at least another half mile until the top of the gorge meets with another smaller gorge formed by a tributary stream. Here old stumps suddenly come right up to the smaller gorge.   

I made it this far on my last trip to MMSP just this last Saturday. I had to turn back when I got to this point because it was getting late in the day, so I didn't get to go up and around the smaller gorge to see if the old growth continued on it's other side. I doubt that it does, though. I most likely crossed an old property line when I encountered the stumps. This smaller gorge also marks the present property line of the park itself. I don't know when I will be able to get back to this area to actually find out.

I did some zigzagging off the trail and down in from the perimeter of big tree area on top of the gorge during my five trips there, I would guess that I have only seen about 60% of the inside of this area, though. I hope to systematically explore the whole area in my next few excursions there. Hopefully, I'll run across a few more big ones. I've learned that this whole area is about 75 acres.

Below is a list of the trees that I have discovered and measured so far. I've only been able to measure CBH's because, like I said, I still don't have either a clinometer or a laser range finder. (I've taken some pictures, too. Most came out dark, but I'll show them to you when I see you.)

None these trees are champions, but they are old, large, and impressive, nonetheless. Most of them do not appear to be exceptionally tall. Perhaps this is because the ground on which they are growing is very rocky. Just under the nice dark top soil is mostly 12"-20" sized boulders.

Here is a list of some trees and their CBH's:

Tree                        CBH

Am Beach                    8'10"
Am Beach                    9'0"
Am Beach                    9'0"
Am Beach                    9'3"
Am Beach                    9'3"
Am Beach                    9'6"

Black Gum                   6'6"
Black Gum                   7'0"

Black Oak (fallen)         12'2"

Black Walnut                7'9"
Black Walnut                10'3"

Chestnut Oak                7'8"
Chestnut Oak                8'6"

Cucumber                    9'10"
Cucumber                    9'11"
Cucumber                    10'4"

Red Oak                     10'4"
Red Oak                     11'2"
Red Oak                     12'4"
Red Oak                     12'6"
Red Oak                     12'10"
Red Oak                     12'10"
Red Oak                     13'3"
Red Oak                     13'9"

Sugar Maple                 9'1"

Tulip                       10'8"
Tulip                       10'8"
Tulip                       10'11"
Tulip                       11'0"
Tulip                       11'2"
Tulip                       11'2"
Tulip                       11'3"
Tulip                       11'5"
Tulip                       11'11"

White Ash                   10'11"

White Oak                   13'1"

        
The whole area, and the gorge itself I find to be just amazing. Maybe I am still too new to this and have been overly impressed, but I think that some of the other ENTS people should give this place a look if they haven't already. Have they explored already explored the park? What have you already heard about the top flat area?
I hope that this email wasnít too long.


Tony

RE: McConnells Mill State Park, Portersville, PA   djluth-@pennswoods.net
  Dec 02, 2005 17:39 PST 

Tony,

Glad to see you've posted this to the ENTS list. I look forward to
spending more field trips to this area... it's a big area, lots of woods
to explore.

I just noticed your black gum circumferences. These aren't slouches.
Both are better than any I've found so far at Cook Forest. Here is a
short list of the largest forest grown black gums I've found at other
Pennsylvania Natural Areas:

Site CBH Height

Alan Seeger N.A. 6.6 87.1
Detweiler Run N.A. 8.7 88.2
Hemlocks N.A. 10.7 96.4

All of these black gum were very old.

The oak CBH's you list for this site are quite impressive. Can't wait
to take a peak.

Dale
RE: McConnells Mill State Park, Portersville, PA   djluth-@pennswoods.net
  Dec 02, 2005 18:12 PST 
Scott,

mcconnells Mill State Park is about 1.5hrs west of Cook Forest. It's
kind of in the vicinity of Grove City, just south of the I-79/I-80
interchange.

http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/parks/region_pittsburgh.aspx

http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/parks/mcconnellsmill.aspx

Regrettably, I don't get over there as much as I'd like to, but when I
do, I'm trying to make more excursions into that area. I've got a huge
backlog of data that I need to update along with a number of visits to
various areas that I still need to post. I've got at least 2 days worth
of data to post on this site, but none of it was as impressive as what
Tony has found. Tony's mainly been working the downstream section of
the gorge. Where as I've only been able to do short trips on the upper
end.

Tony's the MAN!

Dale
RE: ENTS list membership   Anthony Kelly
  Dec 03, 2005 08:43 PST 

Bob,

Thanks for your compliments on my McConnells Mill report. It won't be my
last. I think there are still a few more hidden gems along and down
inside the gorge. I plan to keep looking. I also plan to start hunting
for a laser as soon as the holidays pass. I need to get the height
measurements on the trees I've already found. 

...

Tony

RE: McConnells Mill State Park, Portersville, PA   Anthony Kelly
  Dec 03, 2005 09:08 PST 

Dale,

I'm not that familiar with black gums. Though they paled in size in
comparison to the oaks at McConnells Mill, I measured those two because
I had never remembered seeing any black gums that large before. I'll
keep an eye out for more of them in the future.

It really is the oaks that stand out most at MMSP. Like I told you when
I saw you last, the ones on the list are just the ones that I took the
time to measure. After a while I stopped measuring trees that didn't
look bigger than ones I'd already measured. (Same goes for the other
species, as well.) Til now I've been trying to just get a basic idea of
what's there. It will really take some time to get an thorough overall
survey of that area let alone the entire park.

Also, the day before Thanksgiving I found a small sliver of old trees in
a completely different area on the opposite side of the gorge. I'll try
to get the measurements out soon. They're not as impressive as trees in
the big woods area, though.

Tony