Alexander Berger Memorial Sanctuary

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Ranger Dan
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Alexander Berger Memorial Sanctuary

Post by Ranger Dan » Wed Dec 15, 2010 6:58 pm

Alexander Berger Memorial Sanctuary is a Nature Conservancy preserve east of Fredericksburg, Virginia. Last week, a buddy and I visited the larger, more southerly of the two units that make up the 800+ acre preserve, and found some pretty significant old growth. A line from their web page states that the forest is largely undisturbed since the 1860's, and that the largest trees average 2 ft. in diameter. Many of the trees have grown a lot since this statement was first published in their preserve guide I got in the early 1980's.

The smaller, north unit is open to casual visitation, and has trails. I haven't been there yet. At the southwest corner of the large, south unit, an out-of-date sign by the road states "visitors welcome". Come to find out, they are not. Important missing information on the website is that the south unit is closed to the public, and is being leased by a hunt club. OOPS...we didn't know that until we thoroughly explored the area and met an officer on our way out. He let us go without a ticket. So, courtesy of our trespass, here's the report:

The south unit is in the coastal plain, on sand and gravel of probable marine origin. The west half is flat, mostly seasonally swampy, with many old drainage ditches. Some of the east half is slightly sloping, with more upland species and smaller trees. The easternmost portion is mostly old field regenerating in Virginia pine and hardwoods about 50 years old, but the majority of the forest is old growth, with most of the best stands in the western portion.

We began our trek at the southwest corner and headed roughly north within sight of the field outside the western boundary. There is a stand of tall loblolly pines near the road dominated by trees near 30". After a few minutes of unremarkable lowland hardwoods to the north, there is a long stretch of unexpectedly varied, segregated stands. Swamp chestnut oaks and white oaks 24-36" grow straight and tall in open, stately groves that evoked in me a feeling of ecstacy.
swamp chestnut oak
swamp chestnut oak
Fall 2010 182.jpg (52.83 KiB) Viewed 1002 times
There are occasional individuals even larger, up to 42" or so. Everywhere, the forest is punctuated with frequent willow and pin oaks 36-40", some up to 48" or so. Overcup oak is present, and probably some other oak species. (Sorry for the lack of scientific accuracy...I'm mostly into aesthetic experiences lightly spiced with empirical data.) Sweetgum is abundant, but not large. Neither is tuliptree, which is infrequent. There are stands of magnificent loblollies, many 30" and larger. The forest has recently matured to the point of having large-diameter fallen trees with huge root pans and vernal pools. American holly dominates the understory in large areas, as do highbush blueberry and clethra, but nowhere in the old growth is travel difficult. There are small patches of sphagnum moss in low spots. This splendid forest extends to the northern end of the unit at a gravel pit, and to the east along the northern boundary. Here, among trees often 36" in diameter, there are many acres of the clear remains of raised furrows...a field of crops abandoned perhaps at the end of the Civil War. Maybe the menfolk didn't make it home.

We skirted the edge of the young virginia pine-dominated woods along the eastern boundary, which is full of downed logs. To the south of this old field there is old growth, with willow and pin oak the dominant large trees...a different flavor than the groves to the west. There is a small grove of large white oaks at the apparent site of a house, but the trees themselves were the only evidence we saw. The lagest tree we saw is a willow oak about 60" on the eastern boundary.

The forest is bisected by an old road that heads south from the gravel pit, then becoming a circuitous, recently-cleared ATV route which we followed out through mature but unremarkable white oak-dominated woods of uniform dbh, mostly 18-24", and filled with hunter's tree stands. To anyone who might acquire permission to visit the area, stay to the west of this road to see the best of the forest.

Ranger Dan
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homestead white oak grove
homestead white oak grove
Fall 2010 186.jpg (51.06 KiB) Viewed 1002 times
white oaks
white oaks
Fall 2010 184.jpg (50.61 KiB) Viewed 1002 times
Last edited by Ranger Dan on Fri Dec 17, 2010 5:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: adding images

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James Parton
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Re: Alexander Berger Memorial Sanctuary

Post by James Parton » Thu Dec 16, 2010 12:38 am

Dan,

Was any of the hollies of any size? Any over 50 feet tall?
James E Parton
Ovate Course Graduate - Druid Student
Bardic Mentor
New Order of Druids

http://www.druidcircle.org/nod/index.ph ... Itemid=145

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

Re: Alexander Berger Memorial Sanctuary

Post by dbhguru » Thu Dec 16, 2010 12:27 pm

Dan,

Thanks for the very interesting trip report. My wife and I will be back in Virginia in April 2011. We will likely be in the Charlottesville area around April 18th to continuing measuring trees on the Montpelier Estate, model a big tuliptree in Poplar Forest, visit old growth sites along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and hopefully visit some new tall tuliptree sites. I hope you'll be able to join us for some of these events.

On a recent communication about old growth accessible from the Parkway, I'm very familiar with the area around Chestoah Overlook on NC. I'm not familiar with the OG on the Priest. Monica and I would treat the Apple Orchard Falls and the Priest as a side trip from the Parkway. I have climbed the Apple Orchard Falls trail. It will be thoroughly described in the book. However, the Priest has been one of those areas that I've looked at from a distance. Lots left to see.

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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