Cheat Lake, WV

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Cheat Lake, WV

Post by sjhalow » Wed Dec 12, 2018 7:41 pm

Hi folks

This fall I started tree hunting along the shoreline and environs around Cheat Lake in West Virginia. The lake is an impoundment on the Cheat River and was built in 1925. It serves 3 purposes; power generation, flood control and recreation. The hydroelectric dam is right on the southern border of Pennsylvania literally just yards south of the Mason Dixon Line. The City of Morgantown lies just a few mile to the west of Cheat Lake. There is a lot of boating activity on the lake in summer months.
CheatLakeBackwaters.jpg ... and-trail/

A walking/biking trail the runs about halfway down the east side of the lake from the dam to just north of the I-68 bridge. It is accessible from a parking lot off of Bunker Hill Rd near the dam and from Morgan Run Rd (Rt 71). I occasionally bike on the trail and have been intending to do some tree measuring along the trail for several years now.

My first tree measuring excursion was on Nov 17th, 2018. I walked down to the Cheat Lake Park from the parking lot off of Morgans Run Road, turned south on the trail and crossed a causeway over Morgans Run to a forested area behind the park’s swimming area. It was immediately apparent that there are some pretty good trees here. Right off the bat I was finding tulip trees in the upper 140’s to low 150’s, pretty good heights for this part of the country. Tall tulip trees tend force other species to up there game, so I was immediately encouraged. My finds on this day were as follows.

Acer rubrum----------------------- 116.5
Carya ovata------------------------126.5
Fraxinus pennsylvanica---------134.5, , Dead from EAB
Liriodendron tulipifera-----------158.5, 10.17, Personal best
Liriodendron tulipifera-----------118.5,1 1.17, Old growth characteristics
Quercus alba----------------------121.0, 5.83
Quercus palustris-----------------130.0, 9.25, State record?, personal best
Quercus rubra---------------------130.5, 9.83
Quercus velutina------------------127.0, 8.42, State record?
Tilia (species)----------------------136.5, 10.00

I was quite encouraged by this start and wanted to get at least 10 species for Rutgers Index, so I revisited the lake just a few days later on 11/23/2018. My targets in particular were Sycamore and Black Cherry, two species that usually do quite well in this region. I parked at the same location, but on this day I walked 3 to 4 miles down the trail to a moderately sloped forested area near the southern end of the trail. I must admit it was quite exhausting walking several miles, scrambling around on the bank measuring trees for a couple hours, then walking all the way back to my truck. Next time I will ride a bike! Here are my measurements on this day.

Acer rubrum------------------------119.0,11.08
Carya cordiformis-----------------132.0, 5.25, Personal best
Carya cordiformis-----------------127.0
Liriodendron tulipifera-----------145.0, 11.17, Old growth character
Platanus occidentalis------------141.0
Platanus occidentalis------------138.0
Quercus alba----------------------127.0, ,State record?

I was unable to find a decent Black Cherry which was a little disappointing. For some reason they are not well represented here, which is kind of unusual. Nevertheless it was a pretty decent day as I now had enough species for an RHI10. I’ve only really scratched the surface in this spot so I definitely will be returning.

On 12/2/2018 I made a third trip to the lake. This time to the Tower Run Wildlife Viewing Area on the west side of the lake. Here I got lucky and found a nice tall Black Cherry. It was surrounded by tall sycamores and tulip poplars, so out of necessity, it did what it had to do to reach the sunlight and stay alive. I shot heights on dozens of trees but only two represented improvements over what I had already found on the other side of the lake.

Platanus occidentalis------------143.0
Prunus serotina-------------------135.5,6.83, Crown obscured may be taller

After 3 visits the RHI10 for Cheat Lake stands at 134.65’. If I include the dead Green Ash it climbs to 135.45’. Pin Oak, Black Oak, and White Oak are probably new height records for West Virginia. I’ll ask Turner Sharp can verify this.

I am confident a more thorough investigation will improve the RHI10 to 136’ or better. I’d like to get to 140, but that is a long shot at best. To get there I will need a Tulip 160+, a Sycamore at 150+, 3 species around 140’ ( N. Red Oak, Black Cherry, Basswood) and 5 more species probably a combination of oaks and hickories averaging around 134’. Unfortunately the Ash trees have all succumbed to EAB and White Pines and Eastern Hemlock, both of which can easily top 130’, don’t seem to be present (although I haven’t check everywhere). Anyway it’s a lot of fun chasing the numbers (although I’m sure the trees could care less) and I feel very fortunate to be able to spend time out in the woods at such a nice location.

- Steve H.

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Erik Danielsen
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Re: Cheat Lake, WV

Post by Erik Danielsen » Wed Dec 12, 2018 9:58 pm

Steve, that sounds and looks like an idyllic place to stay busy measuring trees. That photo sure gives it the look of a fine environment for growth. That's a solid rucker in under a month! What's the nature of the forest community? Is it a broadly diverse mixed mesophytic forest or are a few species dominant throughout while the rest vary with the topography?

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Re: Cheat Lake, WV

Post by sjhalow » Thu Dec 13, 2018 11:10 am


I have to confess the photo is a bit misleading. It only shows the upper reaches of the lake. On the left is Coopers Rock State Park, on the right is Snake Hill Wildlife Management Area. The places that I have been measuring are a few miles downstream, behind where the photo was taken. There is much more development on the mid and lower parts of the lake, 3 marinas, some restaurants and dozens of expensive looking homes. But, thanks in part to the steep valley that surrounds the lake, it is not overly built up.

I did some tree measuring in Coopers Rock a few years ago. Most of it is has been timbered within the last 80-100 years, consequently the trees are not very big/tall yet. However there are some very nice old growth hemlocks in the northeast section of the park. Snake Hill is a place I want to check out sometime in the near future.

Regarding species diversity, Cheat Lake is dominated by Tulip Poplar. This seems to have the effect of increasing the RHI while at the same time decreasing species diversity. I also suspect that tree heights may be elevated at Cheat by the rain shadow effect of the mountains directly to the east. For the sake of comparison here are some numbers from 3 nearby sites that I have visited extensively over the last few years.

Mingo Creek - In the ‘lowlands’ about 25 mile west of the mountains.
No dominant species, probably best described as mixed mesophytic.
Many section are quite mature but don’t yet qualify as old growth.

Species Count------45
Annual Rainfall-----39”

Friendship Hill - About 10 miles west of the mountains.
Tulip Poplar is the most dominant species. However there are areas where Oak and White Pine are dominant. Has sections of old growth forest, perhap 10-15% of the park.
Species Count------37
Annual Rainfall-----41”

Ohiopyle State Park - In the mountains several miles east of the frontal range.
Dominated by Tulip Poplar. Has old growth, especially around the Ferncliff Peninsula, although most of the park has probably been timbered the last 100 - 120 years.
Species Count------20
Annual Rainfall-----54.2”

I think Cheat Lake will ultimately fit in somewhere between Ohiopyle and Friendship Hill; High RHI but relatively low species count. Annual rainfall in nearby Morgantown WV is somewhat elevated at 43.0”.

Tulip Poplar dominance, increased rainfall, presence of old growth; I can’t say which of these 3 factors most influences RHI. That being said, I find diverse forests a bit more interesting to measure in, even if the trees aren’t quite as tall.

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Re: Cheat Lake, WV

Post by tsharp » Fri Dec 14, 2018 4:15 pm

Steve, NTS:
Nice report. The height for the Pin Oak is exceptional for West Virginia. Is it planted or naturally occurring? Please nominate it to the West Virginia Big Tree Register.
On a personal note - my late mother-in-law grew up in the village of Canyon, WV which is at the bottom of the lake. There is still a Canyon Road leading out of Morgantown to the lake.

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Larry Tucei
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Re: Cheat Lake, WV

Post by Larry Tucei » Thu Dec 20, 2018 10:56 am

Steve- Beautiful looking lake and the Forests are as well. Wow those are some really nice Rucker indices you have compiled. That is a lot of walking and measuring! Those trees are growing at a good rate similar to the Coastal Trees. Larry

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Re: Cheat Lake, WV

Post by dbhguru » Thu Dec 20, 2018 11:31 am


Good to hear from you and excited about all the WV data. I've alway assumed that WV is bound to be high on the list in terms of raw capability. I think your and Turner's data show that. What is the best you all have done for white pine?

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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