Zoar in Autumn

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

Zoar in Autumn

Post by Erik Danielsen » Wed Oct 15, 2014 6:12 pm

On Monday I made the first of what I hope will be several visits to Zoar Valley during this season of beautiful foliage and easy canopy views. I parked at the Vail Road trailhead (where the experimental chestnut plantation is located). I was immediately surprised by an unusual loner Staghorn Sumac that popped up above the ordinary-height sumac like a little umbrella. The base was invisible and inaccessible, but the height above level line of sight was 37.5 feet. With a conservative 4 foot estimate for height below line of level sight, this sumac is pretty much guaranteed to top 40 feet, which I understand is pretty tall for a sumac. In winter when the brush freezes back its girth and full height will certainly bear measuring.
40+ foot tall staghorn sumac by the parking lot.
40+ foot tall staghorn sumac by the parking lot.
From the parking lot the trail heads south through a walnut plantation dating to the 60s. A fellow I do some work for was involved in planting these walnuts; I think he'd be pleased with how they're doing. There's little sign of american chestnut in the vicinity of the parking lot and along the first section of the trail, but I didn't take the time to seek out the plantation. The trail continues with open field to the right and short regrowth to the right, mostly young red maple and tuliptree mixed with dense shrubs. Finally the trail crosses a powerline right-of-way and enters the mature second-growth forest that lines the north rim of the gorge west of where the powerline crosses. The species mix here is much richer and atypical of the region. Species noted (by sight and by leaf) included hemlock, black birch, yellow birch, cucumber magnolia, tuliptree, bigtooth aspen, trembling aspen, white pine, red pine, northern red oak, black oak, white oak, chestnut oak, black cherry, and red and sugar maples. I even managed to locate a small chestnut near the trail, maybe 20 feet tall and 4 inches in diameter, seemingly healthy so far. Due to the proximity to the plantation it may well have hybrid genetics, which may translate to poor performance as a forest tree, but its proximity to the open edge of the gorge should potentially allow good growth similar to many of the larger chestnut oaks nearby which display an intermediate growth form between open and forest grown. None of this forest is very tall or girthy; scanning the tops of the tallest white pines suggested heights within a yard or two of 100 feet, and they were emergent relative to the main canopy. For Bob's sake, however, I did measure the most impressive black birch available, a nice 5.9'cbh specimen topping out at 88.3' tall.
The knife-edge ridge is a riot of color, green pines with golden oaks and crimson lowbush blueberry.
The knife-edge ridge is a riot of color, green pines with golden oaks and crimson lowbush blueberry.
The trail then descends the Knife-Edge ridge to Knife-Edge Terrace, the old-growth terrace that was the main destination on my agenda for the visit. The ridge itself, an exposed and xeric environment populated by stunted specimens of red and white pine, all the oaks mentioned above, and possibly dwarf chinkapin oak (I didn't investigate the oaks closely on this occasion) as well as lots of lowbush blueberry, is in spectacular form this autumn.
Only the lure of really tall trees to measure could possibly tear me away from such a confluence of color and light as the ridge offered up on monday.
Only the lure of really tall trees to measure could possibly tear me away from such a confluence of color and light as the ridge offered up on monday.
The terrace was my aim, however. I was eager to measure the thick tuliptree I had tapewrapped there earlier this summer, first and foremost. The canopy there is just incredible to see when you're used to other WNY forests, though, so I measure a few others on the way. First was a thinner tulip (under 8'cbh) that hit 125.52' tall, a 8.83'cbh sugar maple at 118.4' tall, and a nice Beech tree, 7.15'cbh and 106.93 feet tall. Finally I reached the thick, imposing tulip I had met before. The thinning understory leaf cover enabled a few different measuring attempts, which topped out 145.52' tall, my personal tallest so far (11.25'cbh). Nearby was a white ash that measured 128.14' tall at 8.56'cbh.
The large white ash, with the 145' tulip in the background.
The large white ash, with the 145' tulip in the background.
There were quite a few white ash of similar stature that are currently standing dead, and seemingly quite recent in their demise. Ash does have a tendency to die on a whim, but perhaps some checking for emerald ash borer would be wise. The majority of woody debris on the ground was beech, and some of the beech snags were quite impressive. Continuing my walk I measured a hemlock to 122.81' tall at 7.68"cbh, much thinner than any of the hemlock of similar height at leolyn but showing similar age characteristics. The most impressive yellow birch I've met came to 95.75 feet tall at 7.05'cbh, a northern red oak growing from the base of the gorge's slope measured 116.64' at 9.94'cbh, another thin tulip hit 127.74', and a walnut beside a wet seep was 111.44' tall at 9.61'cbh. It had a very broad crown and was very dominant in the space below that crown, making it a real standout. I was worried to see a tall, seemingly otherwise intact hemlock in the middle of the terrace that was entirely defoliated; there weren't even clinging brown needles. HWA has recently been detected in the south branch of Zoar valley.

Finally I came to the end of the terrace. Since it was nearly dark and I still had to hike back up the ridge and out, I didn't try crossing to the terrace on the other bank, which has a great population of tall tuliptrees. By rockhopping to midstream, though, I did manage to make rough measurements of a couple tall tulips right on the leading edge of the eroding bank. Precision is impaired by the shallow angles so I'm not going to call these numbers very solid, but at 147.64 and 134.29 feet tall, I know where I'd like to measure next. If better measurement confirms the taller of the two that will become my new personal tallest, though I keep hoping to find my first 150, and ideally find the record tulip and see what its current height is. Does anyone still reading the board have any info on that tree's rough location- Bob, I believe that was you and Dale?
The tulips measured from across the creek. The tree on the right is the taller of the two.
The tulips measured from across the creek. The tree on the right is the taller of the two.

Devin
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Joined: Sun Mar 24, 2013 4:41 pm

Re: Zoar in Autumn

Post by Devin » Wed Oct 15, 2014 11:17 pm

Wowzer those chestnut oaks? are intense. Such color contrast with the vaccinium it really is a beautiful shot. Your photo has caught the peak essence for sure. Makes me all itchy thinking about it. Im jonesing gotta get out and take more fall photos.

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djluthringer
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Re: Zoar in Autumn

Post by djluthringer » Thu Oct 16, 2014 6:25 am

Hi, Erik,

Here's the stats I have for the tall tuliptree in Zoar. Bob may have a better height than I. On 6/28/03 I had it to 10.5ft CBH x 154.4ft high. My GPS put it at 42 26.496N x 78 53.279W.

It's been such a long time that I can't exactly remember which "flat" it was on. I could walk to it, but its been so long since I've been in there that I can't remember if we had to cross the creeks in the bottom once or twice to get to it. I want to say it's near/on "Skinny Dip Flats", but not 100% on that. The coordinates ought to get you pretty close though.

Dale

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Erik Danielsen
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Re: Zoar in Autumn

Post by Erik Danielsen » Thu Oct 16, 2014 9:34 am

Thanks, Dale! I think Bob had mentioned he got 156 on the tulip, and the location sounds about right. The gps coordinates turn up a spot on the north rim above skinnydip flats. I have not yet explored that one, I'll have to make it next on the list.

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dbhguru
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Re: Zoar in Autumn

Post by dbhguru » Thu Oct 16, 2014 12:37 pm

Erik and Dale,

This was a devilishly difficult tree to measure. I did get 156 feet out of it as a maximum, but couldn't get the reading consistently. I think, I'd go with Dale's lower number. It maybe conservative, but definitely safe.

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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Re: Zoar in Autumn

Post by Erik Danielsen » Thu Oct 16, 2014 4:47 pm

If I might ask, what made it so difficult to measure? All the tulips are hard to sight through the summer understory, but are more accessible now. What season were you measuring during? Were there topographic challenges?

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djluthringer
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Re: Zoar in Autumn

Post by djluthringer » Fri Oct 17, 2014 6:19 am

Erik,

The tree is definitely down on the flat, even if coordinates generated on the computer place it on the ridge. If I remember correctly, I had to go a ~3rd of the distance up the hill to get the height that I came up with. Lots of shorter trees in the area to shoot for made it difficult for the laser to find a way through it. We measured it on 6/28/03, so trees were fully leafed out.

Dale

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Erik Danielsen
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Re: Zoar in Autumn

Post by Erik Danielsen » Fri Oct 17, 2014 8:51 am

Yeah, i figured such discrepancies are to be expected with consumer gps gear. Sounds like I'll have a good shot at finding the tree and getting a good viewpoint.

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