Arkwright Falls Gorge

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Erik Danielsen
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Joined: Mon Mar 17, 2014 5:46 pm

Arkwright Falls Gorge

Post by Erik Danielsen » Wed Jul 16, 2014 11:26 pm

The topography of the extreme southwest tip of NY state is perhaps at its best in the deep, narrow gorges that carve through the Allegheny Plateau descending towards Lake Erie. One of these gorges, Zoar Valley, is of course well known here as an exemplary big-tree/old-growth site, but there are several others that provide a similar sense of wildness that are worthy of some future attention. I recently came across a report that referenced the mid-2000s "Lake Erie Gorges Study" in stating that two of them, the Twentymile Creek Gorge and Chautauqua Gorge, also contain some acreage of trees "attaining 150 feet in height and older than 150 years," though to a lesser extent than Zoar. I look forward to investigating this brief snippet of information in the future, but for now I'd like to share a bit of my favorite gorge in the region: Canadaway Creek gorge in Arkwright, NY.

This gorge is smaller than any of the three gorges discussed above, and the main access is through a small rectangle of county forest land that extends from near the peak of a nearby hill to the bottom of the gorge about 250 feet below. Most of this elevation is lost in the last few hundred feet of approach (by the crow flies, at least) though most visitors spread that over a few switchbacks. The gorge is quite narrow and fairly deep. The main draw is a nice-sized waterfall and swimming hole a couple hundred feet upstream of the county land boundary, and fortunately the landowners are welcoming to respectful visitors (the other type of visitor has been an increasing problem of late, sadly). I tend to skip that spot entirely in favor of the even narrower and less accessible gorge formed by a tributary that enters the main gorge by way of a dramatic slot waterfall. It's not possible to climb around this waterfall as of this spring (and barely so before) so almost no one visits the tributary gorge.

In the tributary gorge the stream twists around numerous turns, and the knife-edge ridges this forms above are beautiful narrow paths of lush moss and modest hemlocks. There are numerous small terraces distributed on the slopes, the largest ones being just a few feet above creek and no wider or longer than a hundred feet or so. The general slope of the topography exceeds 45 degrees pretty consistently and the flora tucked into this nook in the earth can be very lush. Pink ladyslipper blooms on the slopes (a rarity here), thick moss carpeting everything, and there's more thimbleberry on the terraces than I've seen anywhere else.

The trees, of course, are what we're here for. The slopes and terraces host a patchwork of two main forest types: Hemlock-dominated portions with lots of gnarled yellow birch and beech, and mixed hardwood portions dominated by tuliptree and northern red oak with sugar maple being the main member of the subcanopy below those. Occurring intermittently are basswood, black cherry, cottonwood, white pine, red maple, and some other oaks. There are species I'm missing here. Light competition in the narrow gorge produces some trees of significant height relative to girth on the terraces and the impracticality of logging the steep slope forests has left some possibly quite old trees of interest, though exceptional size is probably precluded by such precarious perches.

As this site is on the way to several of the places I work, I'll be documenting it bit by bit over time. In this post I'd like to highlight some initial measurements from one of the terraces and a few old-seeming slope tulips. This first terrace is a narrow strip of land perhaps 20 feet wide suspended about 15 feet above the creek. It's not flat so much as just less steep than the rest of the slope. On this small terrace I measured 4 trees that struck me as pretty tall for their modest girths. The only one I'm confident of finding the peak of is the tuliptree, the rest could have higher points that were obscured by leaves. All were impressively branchless very far up their trunks.

Tuliptree 126.9', 70"cbh
Northern Red Oak 112.27', 63" cbh
Sugar Maple 104.1', 47" cbh
American Basswood 99.73', 54"cbh
The bendy trunk in the foreground is the tulip. The straight trunk on the rim nearest to the tulip's right is the basswood, and the hardwood trunk furthest left is the sugar maple.
The bendy trunk in the foreground is the tulip. The straight trunk on the rim nearest to the tulip's right is the basswood, and the hardwood trunk furthest left is the sugar maple.
Here is the tulip again from the other side. The hardwood trunk on the rim just to its left, hiding behind a birch and a couple hemlocks, is the red oak.
Here is the tulip again from the other side. The hardwood trunk on the rim just to its left, hiding behind a birch and a couple hemlocks, is the red oak.
A little bit downstream on a very steep section of slope forest cling two old-looking tuliptrees. Balding and weathering of base bark is impressive on both of these and the crowns are high and compact with fewer, thicker limbs present there. Neither is especially tall for a tulip, and they'd probably have toppled long ago if they were. The lower one on the slope is also pretty sinuous, probably related both to light competition and creeping down the slope over time. There are also large red oaks in this section but I did not measure those at this time. Not confident on absolute tops, finding windows through the hemlock midstory here was difficult.

Lower Tuliptree 88.33', 86" cbh
Higher Tuliptree 99.21', 97" cbh
The higher tulip is in the foreground here, with the lower one in the background. This is an image from several weeks ago, it was too dark for good pictures this time around.
The higher tulip is in the foreground here, with the lower one in the background. This is an image from several weeks ago, it was too dark for good pictures this time around.
The lower tulip has a very interesting wear pattern in its balding patch.
The lower tulip has a very interesting wear pattern in its balding patch.
With any luck I'll be able to arrange to do some coring here this fall; I'm very curious about some of the slope trees present. I'm grateful to the inspiration this group has given me to get out and get involved with things- I'm now doing a bit of work informally with some people from SUNY Fredonia's bio department, who have the corer, including profiling their on-campus woodlot (a gem of a forest for its size and location) and this weekend collecting height and girth data in the old-growth section of their College Lodge property, uphill in Brocton. An aggressive logging plan for the property was halted by campus and community feedback last summer, and out of that was born an ongoing biological inventory including this weekend's "bioblitz" with experts across a wide range of taxa participating. Since I have no credentials really, I'll be wearing the ENTS as my primary affiliation if you all don't mind. I will of course be citing ENTS methodology when I submit that data, and there'll certainly be a report to make here!

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Larry Tucei
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Joined: Tue Mar 09, 2010 10:44 am

Re: Arkwright Falls Gorge

Post by Larry Tucei » Thu Jul 17, 2014 9:39 am

Erik- Awesome! Let us know what the results are on the coring. I've been wanting to core some trees every since I joined NTS back in 06. You would be interested in one of our Dendrochronologist NTS members, Neil Pederson. http://people.eku.edu/pedersonn/index.php Larry

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Erik Danielsen
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Joined: Mon Mar 17, 2014 5:46 pm

Re: Arkwright Falls Gorge

Post by Erik Danielsen » Sat Jul 26, 2014 4:05 pm

I just read something on black gum dendrochronology by Pederson actually. I'll have to get in touch at some point.

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dbhguru
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Joined: Mon Mar 08, 2010 9:34 pm

Re: Arkwright Falls Gorge

Post by dbhguru » Sat Jul 26, 2014 5:27 pm

Erik,

I like your approach. I like to revisit a site many times and work my way around, getting familiar with it in stages.

At some future point, maybe we can combine our trip reports into an NTS E-book. There is so much information out there now and the kind of data that we collect exists no place else, a few individual websites not withstanding.

Bob
Robert T. Leverett
Co-founder, Native Native Tree Society
Co-founder and President
Friends of Mohawk Trail State Forest
Co-founder, National Cadre

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Erik Danielsen
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Joined: Mon Mar 17, 2014 5:46 pm

Re: Arkwright Falls Gorge

Post by Erik Danielsen » Mon Jul 28, 2014 8:03 pm

An NTS-eBook certainly would be pretty neat, and probably more accessible to a wide range of readers than the sometimes-wandering forum threads. I find the "ENTS Special Publication" PDFs already on the site inspiring in the depth of information they provide and the diligent effort they represent. They would constitute an excellent goalpost to aim for for us general members in compiling site reports for this hypothetical eBook.

I think that sampling and digesting a site one bite at a time can make a lot of sense. There's so much to get to; I just caught another couple hours of measuring at Bennett Beach and I keep plugging away at Rushing Stream and Arkwright; more Zoar and Lilydale planned for later in August, two sites owned by SUNY Fredonia in conjunction with the bio department, and then those other two gorges... the trees sure can keep a person busy!

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