Big Basin - Allegany State Park

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Erik Danielsen
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Big Basin - Allegany State Park

Post by Erik Danielsen » Tue Apr 02, 2019 6:37 pm

Allegany State Park's Big Basin is noted by many sources as being home to one of NY state's largest contiguous tracts of old-growth forest, perhaps the largest outside of the adirondacks. The document "A Botanical Survey of Allegany State Park", copyrighted in 1937, devotes a whole chapter to this portion of the park, and provides its geographic boundaries. More recently, the NY Natural Heritage Program mapped the park's old-growth stands (though there are some that were missed). Their map is the base for the following annotated map and outlines in red both the extensive central big-basin old growth area and the smaller almost-contiguous "Camp 10" old-growth site near Big Basin's southeastern edge. Outside of the old-growth boundaries Big Basin contains large areas in different states of both natural regrowth and conifer plantations that date as far back as 1921.
Red outlines indicate the sections of old growth forest. "Big Basin" itself is bounded by Bay State Road, Frances Brook Road, and ASP 2.
Red outlines indicate the sections of old growth forest. "Big Basin" itself is bounded by Bay State Road, Frances Brook Road, and ASP 2.
Browsing the orthoimagery of Big Basin, I cued into the northwestern spur of old-growth area shown on the NYNHP map and noticed that a single white pine stuck out like a sore thumb, just massively outclassing all surrounding trees and with a shadow measuring over 130' while most surrounding trees had shadows not exceeding 100'. The route to access was clear. Finding and measuring this tree became the first item on the to do list for my April 1st visit.
Hard to miss, isn't it?
Hard to miss, isn't it?
pinescreenshot1.jpg (77.36 KiB) Viewed 2665 times
Turned out that this tree was no joke! While not an old-growth specimen, this tree's massive multi-leader crown has it well on its way to being a 12'cbh great white. Hiking down the slope to this tree, a single old-looking tupelo and a nice young tulip stretching to ~129' tall were nice incidental finds. A handful of larger oaks appeared partially open-grown, and bigtooth aspen was probably the most numerous canopy species. (A)
The big lonely white pine.
The big lonely white pine.
I headed west back uphill into the northwestern peninsula of old-growth on the NYNHP map and found the nicest grove of old hemlocks I've seen in the park yet. No superlative dimensions, just a sense of antiquity- most stems were around 30"dbh and columnar, with heights mostly from 100-110, though one standout hit 122.5'. Just uphill from these I entered a mixed-mesophytic community with diverse oaks, tulip, basswood and especially White Ash, including a new height record for the park. All of the species on this slope are impressive. (B)
A very aged-looking dead Black Birch stem stood among the hemlocks of section (B).
A very aged-looking dead Black Birch stem stood among the hemlocks of section (B).
Great old sugar maple in section (C)
Great old sugar maple in section (C)
Next I headed into the center of the park to find the heart of the old-growth. When I inquired previously at the park headquarters as to the best point of access, they pointed to a small basin on the map known as Stoddard Hollow. In browsing the orthoimagery I noticed that on the east-facing slope there was an area with a concentration of white pines. This seemed like a good place to start. As it turns out, the park is in the process of developing a new "old-growth trail" that takes visitors right down into the heart of this stand of pines, but I bushwacked over the ridge from a little further south, unaware of the new entrance. The ridgetop was populated by wonderful old hemlocks and large black cherries, but as I moved down onto the slope the canopy shifted almost exclusively to massive sugar maples, the most impressive collection I have ever seen. The dimensions listed here contain no superlative measurements for the species but the sense of mass and gnarl was exceptional. Just a little further north, the hardwoods diversified and the pines began. There are at least a couple dozen canopy-emergent white pines here, many of which are over 140'. Sugar and red maples, white ash, black cherry, cucumbertree and basswood make up the rest of the large stems. The tallest white pine is one of the state's tallest outside of the adirondacks, and I have no doubt that the species can get even taller here. The old botanical survey mentions a fallen white pine elsewhere in the park measured on the ground to over 160'. (C)
The largest-girthed old growth white pine
The largest-girthed old growth white pine
145' / 9.4'cbh White Pine, a little further upslope than the rest of the tall ones- what a form!
145' / 9.4'cbh White Pine, a little further upslope than the rest of the tall ones- what a form!
Outside of the vicinity of the white pines, wider and flatter parts of Stoddard Hollow I wandered through were populated by some of the most dispersed old-growth I've been in, an extreme expression of that classic J-curve of stem diameter class distributions. All the species listed for section (C) above and even a couple large northern red oaks are participants in this part, and most striking and numerous remain the sugar maples- the wide spacing and abundance of very small stems really did feel strange, though. In the 1930s, this section was described as a magnificent beech-sugar maple forest, with particular emphasis on the beech. I did not see a single mature beech there in 2019, just thousands of sprouts. The strangely dispersed feeling of this stand's old-growth trees, I believe, is largely due to the ravages of beech bark disease. (C continued)
122' Black Cherry- Big Basin is known for large tracts of big black cherry, but I have yet to get into a real grove of them.
122' Black Cherry- Big Basin is known for large tracts of big black cherry, but I have yet to get into a real grove of them.
As the sun was setting I made a quick run back to the vicinity of the Camp 10 old-growth site, to give the new prospective Norway Spruce height record a more thorough measurement with the 200LR. I had measured it the previous week, quickly with the 200B handheld, to 143'. Since I had been shooting to the uphill side of the root flare from about 40' above, and only accepting the most repeatable figures to account for the uncertainty of hand-shake, I had a suspicion that proper mid-slope assessment and a precise, tripod-mounted cable-triggered instrument could get a little more height out of it and eliminate uncertainty. With a final figure of 145.04', it was definitely worth the end-of-day detour. (D)
145' Norway Spruce (distorted phone panorama)
145' Norway Spruce (distorted phone panorama)
Tallest norway spruce, undistorted from higher on the adjacent slope, with its top catching the last rays of the setting sun.
Tallest norway spruce, undistorted from higher on the adjacent slope, with its top catching the last rays of the setting sun.
April 1 2019 measurements - 200B Handheld unless otherwise stated - letters key to narrative paragraphs

White Pine
157.5' / 9.7'cbh (C)
154.5' / 10.3'cbh (C)
147.5' / 11.46'cbh (C)
145' / 9.4'cbh (C)
142' / 8.9'cbh (C)
140.5' / 10.4'cbh (C)
137' / 7.8'cbh (C)
134.5' / 11.4'cbh (A)
Norway Spruce
145.04' / 8.04'cbh
White Ash
136.5' / 6.4'cbh (B)
131' / 6.9'cbh (B)
130.5' / 8.7'cbh (C)
126' / 9.2'cbh (C)
Tuliptree
129' / double (A)
Eastern Hemlock
123.5' / 9.3'cbh (C)
122.5' / (A)
115.5' / (A)
113' / 7.96'cbh (A)
Black Cherry
122' / 8.96'cbh (C)
Sugar Maple
121.5' / 8.1'cbh (C)
119' / 6.6'cbh (C)
116.5' / 7.2'cbh (C)
109.5' / 10'cbh (C)
Red Maple
119' / 8.6'cbh (C)
117' / 10'cbh (C)
113' / 9.4'cbh (C)
Basswood
117.5' / 5.7'cbh (B)
Cucumber Magnolia
116.5' / 7.3'cbh (C)
111' / 7.7'cbh (C)
Black Oak
114' / (B)
112' / (B)
White Oak
107' /big double (A)
Northern Red Oak
106.5' / 12.8'cbh (C)
94.5' / 12.6'cbh (C)
Chinquapin Oak
97.5' / 4.8'cbh (A)
Black Tupelo
94.5' / 6.5'cbh (A)

Finally, this raises the RHI10 for ASP to 131.5.
Last edited by Erik Danielsen on Wed Aug 14, 2019 8:56 am, edited 1 time in total.

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bbeduhn
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Re: Big Basin - Allegany State Park

Post by bbeduhn » Thu Apr 04, 2019 7:59 am

Erik,
Fantastic report! I love the shots of the pines...almost 160'! The Norway Spruce is sensational! It'll be a while until we can catch up to Europe but we're getting closer. My best is 133' in the South. I think the Northeast is where it's happiest stateside.
Brian

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dbhguru
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Re: Big Basin - Allegany State Park

Post by dbhguru » Thu Apr 04, 2019 11:51 am

Erik,

The New York team is unstoppable. I am very excited about the fines and would like to visit the old growth section via the new trail in late summer. Maybe we can team up.

Bob
Robert T. Leverett
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Co-founder and President
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Lucas
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Re: Big Basin - Allegany State Park

Post by Lucas » Thu Apr 04, 2019 6:08 pm

Great report.

No sign of chestnuts, yet?
We travel the Milky way together, trees and men. - John Muir

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Erik Danielsen
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Re: Big Basin - Allegany State Park

Post by Erik Danielsen » Fri Apr 05, 2019 8:56 am

Brian, that may well be true. At the least the tallest I know I've heard of is in MA. There's room for questions about the effects of time from first planting and different seed sources on the distribution of tall norway spruce in NA, though. It might be that places like west virginia or the smokies could theoretically grow them taller than they get in their native range!

Bob, that would be great. Let me know when you start materializing plans.

Lucas, unfortunately no. However the botanical survey from the 1930s does discuss an unaffected grove near to a specific large multi-stem cherry that the book shows a photo of. I have seen more recent photos of people with what appears to possibly be the same cherry. The book gives some general directions to the area where they are but then refers to a map included with the original report that apparently showed these and other old-growth points of interest in detail- but of all the possible illustrations that map is not included in the final collected publication! It's infuriating! ASP 1 had not been built yet and based on the vague directions it is possible that it cut right through where the chestnuts were, but maybe not. Next visit I intend to try to follow the directions (head due north from the high point of bay state road) and see if anything turns up.

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Erik Danielsen
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Re: Big Basin - Allegany State Park

Post by Erik Danielsen » Sun Apr 07, 2019 9:26 am

Saturday 4/6 I put some miles in on the other side of ASP1, mostly across Stoddard Creek in the (more or less) southwestern quarter of the Old-Growth area defined by NYNHP in the map from the original post. From the trailhead I set off from I was able to sight another cluster of white pines in the distance- but wasn't very careful, and quickly lost the bearing once I got down into the hemlock-hardwoods old growth that lines the main creek and its tributaries. Later on, having climbed uphill into a more open mixed-mesophytic stand I was able to sight the cluster again, followed the bearing more carefully- and found the handful of pines to be of just moderate size, 120-130.' Proximity to a white pine stand is one of the indicators for the location of the Chestnut grove we've been discussing, but the rest of the narrative suggests it should be a bit north of what I got into on this occasion.
102.5'/9.8'cbh high-volume hemlock, probably around 500 ft3.
102.5'/9.8'cbh high-volume hemlock, probably around 500 ft3.
As a result, the hemlocks became the day's focus. The old-growth lining Stoddard Creek is a good place for a hemlock lover to be! Specimens >30"dbh are abundant and dominate the canopy, many over 120' tall. I'd suggest that most are over 300 ft3 and the largest seen are probably in the ballpark of 500 ft3. In parts near the road, many also have tags indicating treatment for HWA. The hardwoods among the hemlocks are large with massive trunks, but not necessarily tall- 105-115 typical, only outliers over 120'. White Ash is the most abundant hardwood accompanying these, and asserts itself as the "big tree" of this community, with quite a few appearing to be 10-12'cbh. I regret that I didn't measure a couple of the largest, as I was mostly just stopping to record measurements if they pushed the rucker index. Black cherry was probably next in abundance, and others included basswood, sugar, red and striped maples, occasional northern red oak, cucumber, black and yellow birches, and zillions of beech sprouts. Tuliptree was restricted to the upper mixed-mesophytic slope stand, nothing big by tulip standards. (A)

I ran into an elderly fly-fisherman deep in the woods, in a dense hemlock grove surrounding a tributary where he asserted that in decades he has never run into a single other person. He fishes for Brook Trout- not to eat but to monitor where they are still persisting. He told me about their changes in distribution over the several decades he's been visiting, and their relationship with water quality mediated by intact hemlock canopy. He confirmed that beech bark disease has radically altered the structure of this forest, noting that large beech used to be nearly as abundant as the hemlocks. He also related the location of a stand of large pines I'll have to visit sometime. It was nice to spontaneously run into a like-minded person "fishing for insight" into the ecology of this beautiful area.
Phone panorama view of the giant red maple
Phone panorama view of the giant red maple
Finally I crossed back over the creek and headed upstream on the tributary that drains Stoddard Hollow to where it crosses ASP1. As it turns out there is an interesting set of very large trees along this tributary, including one of the most monstrous forest-grown Red Maples I have ever encountered! Its footprint is massive, and I suspect there was a second stem sometime in the distant past. Above the huge high-reaching flare (which takes about 25' to slim down) it's still quite large. Following upstream over ASP1 and then south on the east-facing slope of Stoddard Hollow above much of the ground I covered in the last trip, widely-space, massive specimens of Black Cherry, Northern Red Oak, White Ash, and especially Red Maple (many of them equal or larger than the big one downstream, minus the basal flare). This is the first area that's got a concentration of what I'd consider "Lilydale-size" black cherries. (B)
Proportional single-shot view of the giant red maple, from up the adjacent slope.
Proportional single-shot view of the giant red maple, from up the adjacent slope.
110.5'/11.3'cbh Black Cherry catching the last golden rays of sunlight. Very balded bark high up the trunk.
110.5'/11.3'cbh Black Cherry catching the last golden rays of sunlight. Very balded bark high up the trunk.
April 6 2019 measurements - 200B Handheld unless otherwise stated - letters key to narrative paragraphs

Eastern Hemlock
131.2' / 8.8'cbh (A) stabilized laser
128.6' / 9.4'cbh (A) stabilized laser
128.5' / 9.1'cbh (A)
125.5' / 8.6'cbh (A)
121.5' / 7.7'cbh (A)
120.5' / 8.7'cbh (A)
102.5' / 9.8'cbh (A) may be one of the highest-volume, slow taper with large forked crown
Basswood
122' / 6.3'cbh (A)
Red Maple
121' / 7.9'cbh (A)
115.6' / 14'cbh (B) enormous footprint! Stabilized laser
Black Cherry
111.5' / 11.2'cbh (B)
110.5' / 11.3'cbh (B)
Striped Maple
49' / 1.2'cbh (A)

Updated RHI10: 132.4

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JHarkness
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Re: Big Basin - Allegany State Park

Post by JHarkness » Sun Apr 07, 2019 12:45 pm

Erik,


Great work! That red maple is off the charts! An 8' CBH forest grown red maple seems to be quite an accomplishment in this area of NY, in fact, I've seen few over 8'. But 14'! I wonder if this tree could be the legitimate state champion? The one on the register seems to be a double stem with significant height error. Oh, those hemlocks and pines are beautiful too, and the old sugar maples caught my eye.


Joshua
"Be not simply good; be good for something." Henry David Thoreau

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Re: Big Basin - Allegany State Park

Post by ElijahW » Mon Apr 08, 2019 8:09 am

Erik,

Very impressive all the way around: big trees, tall trees, old trees, and unique plant communities. I’ll have to get down there sometime.

I don’t think I’ve fished for Brook trout since I was five or six years old. I went a couple times with an older cousin, and most of what I remember is how much they liked the marshmallows we were using. I don’t think we kept the fish we caught, either.

I’m glad you’ve gotten into this area. It’s turning out to be a real treasure.

Elijah
"There is nothing in the world to equal the forest as nature made it. The finest formal forest, the most magnificent artificially grown woods, cannot compare with the grandeur of primeval woodland." Bob Marshall, Recreational Limitations to Silviculture in the Adirondacks

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Erik Danielsen
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Re: Big Basin - Allegany State Park

Post by Erik Danielsen » Mon Apr 08, 2019 9:38 am

Elijah, maybe when Bob's able to head down we can make it a little rendezvous. Lots of good stuff yet to measure, and some of the larger stems would be great to model for volume. A big question in my mind- would a Rucker Volume Index for ASP be able to match an RVI for the much tinier Leolyn Grove at Lilydale? As yet, I am honestly not sure. I think Leolyn stands out on White Pine, Black Cherry, Hemlock, Beech, and Cucumbertree, but ASP takes white ash, tuliptree, and sugar maple- and red maple and red oak are a really close race.

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Erik Danielsen
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Re: Big Basin - Allegany State Park

Post by Erik Danielsen » Tue Dec 31, 2019 4:40 pm

ASP's Big Basin may be easiest to define as the watershed of Red House Brook (though at the western edge it overlaps with the area I've described as the "Trackless West")- visible in this map: http://www.wnytrails.com/maps_allegany/maps_pdf/map_Allegany_watersheds.pdf

The southernmost "prong" of the watershed, extending south nearly to the PA border, contains another area of forest NYNHP mapped as Old-Growth (as seen in this map: http://www.wnytrails.com/maps_allegany/maps_pdf/map_Allegany_preserve_area_old_growth.pdf).

52 photographs of the trees and habitats described in the following narrative can be seen at this link, with species, location, and other details noted in titles: https://www.flickr.com/photos/135293803@N05/albums/72157711974645006
Interesting crown on this black cherry
Interesting crown on this black cherry
On November 25, 2019 I traveled with Chris Merchant and his nephew to a parking spot on ASP 3, just south of the indicated old-growth area, from which we hiked north. As we traced tributaries through a dissected upland we passed in and out of patches of old-seeming hemlocks but were mainly in hardwood forests that featured the greatest frequency of giant Black Cherries I've seen in the park so far. Heights were moderate, with the tallest canopy trees generally from 110-120'. This section probably had a patchwork of very early disturbance but is more recently affected by Beech Bark Disease.
12.4' cbh Hemlock- Chris is down at the bottom for scale
12.4' cbh Hemlock- Chris is down at the bottom for scale
When we got down into the main creek channel we finally started to encounter BIG hemlocks. Up until now, I had only measured a single hemlock over 10'cbh in the whole park, and here they were all over the place. Upper Red House Brook is definitively THE high-volume hemlock center of ASP (so far). A standout tree nearly 14'cbh was truly a sight to see, but some of the others with smaller bases but less taper may be as massive or moreso. Working over some of these with a reticle is high on my to-do list.
13.6'cbh Hemlock
13.6'cbh Hemlock
Many of these are also definitely old trees, with columnar form, high smooth trunks and gnarly crowns, blocky bark, etc. One purple-tinged tree on a steep slope above the creek seemed particularly aged, with interesting twisted low limbs. Many additional hemlocks of similar size were sighted but not measured, and only about half of the north-south extent of the mapped old-growth area was covered. I'm excited to see what additional exploration of this area will reveal.

11/25 Measurements (handheld Trupulse 200B, ~1.5' margin of error)
Eastern Hemlock
118' / 13.6'cbh
117.5' / 10.7'cbh
115' / 10.3'cbh
113' / 10.6'cbh
111.5' / 9.6'cbh
110.5' / 12.4'cbh
108' / 11.3'cbh
108' / 10.5'cbh
102.5' / 11.1'cbh
didn't record/ 11.8'cbh
Black Cherry
114.5' / 11.8'cbh
112' / 9.7'cbh
111' / 11.6'cbh
108' /
104' / 10.7'cbh
White Ash
118'
Red Maple
105.5' / 10'cbh

After staying in a cabin in the park (nice time of year for it, highly recommended) we embarked the next morning (11/26) to hike up a gas well access road into the heart of the Big Basin (this map indicates the network of storage well roads in question: http://www.wnytrails.com/maps_allegany/maps_pdf/map_Allegany_park_preserve_area.pdf).
Tulips and Hemlocks in the cove above France Brook.
Tulips and Hemlocks in the cove above France Brook.
After poking around a couple less-interesting spots we descended westward from the second-southmost gas well indicated in the linked map, into the upper slopes of a cove draining south to France Brook (itself a tributary to Red House Brook). This area is mapped old-growth by NYNHP as well, and this did hold up to what we found. The upper slopes especially were dense with tuliptrees, which ash, red and white oaks, sugar maple etc while the central portions lining the drainages were dominated by hemlock. Intermediary areas were patchworks of hemlock-dominant areas and hardwood-dominant areas, with their random distribution and ample woody debris suggesting that blowdowns (as still regularly observed in the park) are a consistent natural driver of disturbance here. This mixed area is especially diverse, with cucumber magnolia, basswood, red maple, chestnut oak, black cherry, black birch and yellow birches, occasional shagbark, and even some hopeful-looking young beeches. The hardwoods here were reasonably tall. The White Ashes in one patch were especially impressive.

After making some measurements, we ascended the opposite slope (measuring a new Black Cherry maximum for the park on the slope) and crossed the ridge to descend into the portion of upper Stoddard Hollow that I described in this topic's first post, with the tall White Pines. I measured a Bitternut Hickory on the way- the first of decent size I've seen in the park's interior. It's interesting that this species is so abundant in the adjacent glaciated plateau, but really only common within the park on its northwestern edge, where the glacier ground to a halt. Where abundant on uplands in WNY it does often seem to be associated with glacial deposits of soils heavy in nutrient-rich clays, and/or soils partially derived from erosion of the calcarous shale bedrock that forms the Portage Escarpment. The much more developed, unglaciated soils in ASP may just be unfavorable to the species' best growth.

11/26 Measurements (handheld Trupulse 200B, ~1.5' margin of error)
Tuliptree
132.5' / 8.5'cbh
129.5' / 9.3'cbh
125' / 8.7'cbh
124.5' / 8.9'cbh
White Ash
124.5' / 8.2'cbh
119' / 10.4'cbh
116' / 10.8'cbh
Black Cherry
124.5' / 8' cbh
119' / 9.5'cbh
114'
Cucumber Magnolia
116.5' / 8' cbh (Stoddard Hollow)
Bitternut Hickory
102' / 5.5'cbh (Stoddard Hollow)

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