Chautauqua Creek Gorge

Moderators: edfrank, dbhguru

User avatar
Erik Danielsen
Posts: 875
Joined: Mon Mar 17, 2014 5:46 pm

Chautauqua Creek Gorge

Post by Erik Danielsen » Wed Oct 11, 2017 4:16 pm

Chautauqua Creek Gorge, like the previously reported Canadaway Gorge and of course the unparalleled Zoar Valley, is one of the deep water-worn gashes in the Allegheny Plateau that drain into Lake Erie. Unlike Canadaway Gorge, Chautauqua Creek Gorge is one of three ravines specifically noted in a Watershed Report as containing forests "exceeding 150 years in age and 150 feet in canopy height"- along with Twentymile Creek Gorge and Zoar Valley. It's unclear what methods were used to make that height determination, but we certainly know it to be true for Zoar, so I've been looking forward to getting into Chautauqua Gorge to see how tall its trees might be. Much of its length is private, but Chautauqua Gorge State Forest provides public access to one of the narrow, rugged stretches of its upper reaches.

Friday 10/7/17 I visited the gorge and discovered immediately that I had run down my rangefinder battery and had no replacements. This was disappointing, but gave me time to cover quite a bit of ground to scout out the most promising stands of trees. I returned on Tuesday 10/10/17 to get some trees measured. The numbers:
chautauquagorge.jpg
All of these trees (except the plantation larch) were measured on a terrace just north of the main parking lot, accessed by descending a narrow tree-lined ridge and following it down to the east. There is an additional section of terrace to the west of the ridge that I didn't measure on this occasion. In addition to being very tall, the ecology of the forest on this terrace is remarkably intact. Tree species associated with anthropogenic disturbance are abundant in the immediate surroundings but absent on the terrace. The ground flora is some of the lushest I've seen anywhere and consists entirely of native species, many of which are uncommon or rare.
124.5' white ash- many have narrow crowns like this, and it's likely at least a dozen on this terrace are over 120'.
124.5' white ash- many have narrow crowns like this, and it's likely at least a dozen on this terrace are over 120'.
It's difficult to interpret what the disturbance history here might be. It is entirely possible this stand was never or only lightly logged; access is difficult. In current management plan maps for the State Forest, these terraces are designated "natural area" with no plans for active management. The issue with declaring this forest "old growth" is that many of the trees seem fairly old, but none that I would necessarily put past the 150-200 year age class, and there are many species considered less shade tolerant (white ash, black cherry, northern red oak). Among later-succession species sugar maple is abundant, with hemlock clustering in just one area and beech only present in young understory trees. There is evidence to suggest much larger beech were present, with bark disease likely having killed most of them. There is a significant amount of downed woody material, and it seems to decay very rapidly.
127.5' black cherry. There are many tall cherries left to measure, so this site may compete with Long Point for state maximum.
127.5' black cherry. There are many tall cherries left to measure, so this site may compete with Long Point for state maximum.
115' Northern Red Oak (likely to be taller measured after leafdrop), one of the most massive trees present. A lightning scar runs the length of its trunk.
115' Northern Red Oak (likely to be taller measured after leafdrop), one of the most massive trees present. A lightning scar runs the length of its trunk.
The pattern that does emerge, at least to my eyes, is that the less shade tolerant species tend to follow slope interfaces, both along the main slope of the descending ridgeline and wherever the terrace has "steps" (often steep slopes dropping 5-10 feet in elevation), while sugar maple becomes almost hegemonic on the more stable flats. It may be that this is an old-growth system in which the disturbance regime is chiefly geological, with slope instability (particularly considering how very wet the environment is) maintaining a gap dynamic that both maintains the species mix and accounts for the abundance of old trees but virtual absence of very old trees. The alternative likelihood would be that there might have been a full stand replacement event sometime around 200 years ago (whether anthropogenic or a weather or landslide event) with no meaningful alteration or human uses in the time since, with the species and distributions present simply reflecting inexorable succession headed for a beech-maple-hemlock climax overall.
112' hemlock, growing on a steep slope.
112' hemlock, growing on a steep slope.
Heights of many of the species present are similar to the heights those same species achieve in Zoar; further downstream I know that tuliptree, sycamore and cottonwood do join the canopy, and this raises the possibility that trees in the 150' class will be found here as well.
120' sugar maple, a standout spurred upward by its position on the slope interface.
120' sugar maple, a standout spurred upward by its position on the slope interface.
Along with the species measured, yellow birch, ironwood, and hophornbeam are all present as understory trees. Cucumber Magnolia is also somewhat common, mainly in with the hemlocks, and the one mystery encountered was a single Bitternut Hickory sapling in the middle of the terrace. I did not see any other hickories at any stage of life. On this visit I didn't have time to visit the upper slope of the terrace, which has a couple more "steps" and may be better-drained- if that's where the mature hickories are, there will definitely be potential for tall trees and perhaps some additional species diversity. Looking down into part of that slope from the ridge while leaving I did notice the taller basswood that I measured as well as a nice beech that should have a reasonable height.

The Larch (which I believe is Japanese but I didn't look at the characteristics closely) is in a nice plantation just above this terrace, which probably has taller trees but is still a bit of a visual mess right now. All the tallest tops seem to be nested, making it hard to work with the needles on. It's a dense stand. There are a few Norway Spruce but they don't seem to do as well.
This gnarled hemlock over 2'dbh, clinging to a very steep slope above another terrace downstream of the site of this post's measurements, is the oldest-looking individual tree I've encountered in the gorge so far.
This gnarled hemlock over 2'dbh, clinging to a very steep slope above another terrace downstream of the site of this post's measurements, is the oldest-looking individual tree I've encountered in the gorge so far.
There's a lot left to explore and measure in Chautauqua Creek Gorge. Much of the best of it is private land, as is most of the previously mentioned Twentymile Creek Gorge, but I know at least one of the relevant landowners and hope to figure out some options for access.

User avatar
Larry Tucei
Posts: 2017
Joined: Tue Mar 09, 2010 10:44 am

Re: Chautauqua Creek Gorge

Post by Larry Tucei » Thu Oct 12, 2017 3:36 pm

Erik- Nice report and really good photos. No doubt there will some taller trees found here. Sometimes it can be difficult to get the whole tree in the photo. Larry

User avatar
RayA
Posts: 212
Joined: Mon Sep 24, 2012 10:21 am

Re: Chautauqua Creek Gorge

Post by RayA » Thu Oct 12, 2017 6:39 pm

Impressive report Erik.

Why do you suppose those tall white ash crowns are so slender?
It looks like there's nothing near the one in the photo.

User avatar
Erik Danielsen
Posts: 875
Joined: Mon Mar 17, 2014 5:46 pm

Re: Chautauqua Creek Gorge

Post by Erik Danielsen » Wed Oct 18, 2017 6:56 pm

Thanks Larry, and yes, especially when you might fall off a cliff if you back up any further!

Ray, the angle of the photo did a good job of isolating that ash crown but it was actually sandwiched between trees higher up on the adjacent ridge (it's rooted right near the zlope interface) and the canopy on the flat. It has more room on one side than it used to; the 117.5' tall black cherry was originally a double, splitting about 25' off the ground, but one of the trunks is downed and previously would have provided this ash tighter competition.

The concentration of foliage near the center of the crown and bare branch ends is another curious visual point, though, and I've been seeing it a lot in tall ash lately. I tend to assume it's related to some stressor and probable decline in health. EAB is still just a minor presence here but there are plenty of possible culprits.

User avatar
Erik Danielsen
Posts: 875
Joined: Mon Mar 17, 2014 5:46 pm

Re: Chautauqua Creek Gorge

Post by Erik Danielsen » Fri Oct 27, 2017 5:26 pm

I made another visit to the gorge 10/26, aiming first for the slope above the terrace where I had previously measured trees. The slope turns out to have a nice broad shelf, about 25' higher than the main terrace and narrowing to a small ravine at one end where the extending ridge meets the main wall of the gorge. In that small ravine I found a new tallest White Ash for the site, and found myself in a good position to view what turned out to be a new NYS maximum height for Black Cherry. Moving to the far edge, a tall-looking white pine could be sighted on another steep ridge; this was a bear to measure but after lots of slippery footwork and upwards scrambling it became a nice addition to the site's profile. Finally, I moved back down onto the main terrace and found a new vantage point which, along with continuing leafdrop, allowed me to find higher tops on one of the hemlocks as well as the previous tallest Black Cherry- which also now exceeds the previous state max! Unexpectedly, right along the edge of the stream, a tree I expected to be a decent Basswood was in fact a Cottonwood of reasonable height. Finally I got over to the terrace on the other side of the ridge, which was a bit of a bust. Some looming cherries in the low 120s were by far the largest trees present, except for a nice stand of basswood at the furthest upstream point, from which I also measured a nice Cucumber Magnolia (on private land across the creek). With the additional species filling out the index, the RHI10 stands at 118.9.
New State Max Black Cherry
New State Max Black Cherry
White Ash
134' 7.9'cbh
131.5' 7.2'cbh
Black Cherry
131.8' 8.8'cbh
131' 9.7'cbh remeasure
Eastern Hemlock
117' 8.3'cbh remeasure
Sugar Maple
116' 7.3'cbh
White Pine
115.9' 8.6'cbh
Eastern Cottonwood
108' 7.4'cbh
American Basswood
106.5' 5.7'cbh
Cucumber Magnolia
103.5' measured as viewed from public land, did not trespass to tapewrap
Yellow Birch
93' 5.1'cbh
Attachments
Measured yellow birch, bark starting to display signs of aging.
Measured yellow birch, bark starting to display signs of aging.

User avatar
Erik Danielsen
Posts: 875
Joined: Mon Mar 17, 2014 5:46 pm

Re: Chautauqua Creek Gorge

Post by Erik Danielsen » Thu Mar 08, 2018 2:14 pm

I've made a couple quick visits to the lower reaches of the Chautauqua Gorge this past week, since giving someone rides to and from work nearby while her car was getting fixed put my in the neighborhood for a couple hours two days in a row. As it turns out most of the gorge bottom for most of its extent is owned by the Village of Westfield, with a couple chunks of DEC property and just one bottleneck section where private parcels restrict access. Owing to the brief visits and deep slushy snow, I've stuck to just measuring some preliminary heights and getting a little ground covered. On the very steep slopes there are some genuinely old trees, especially northern red oak, and some of the alluvial terraces have some relatively tall spots- one is a DEC parcel that has some of the best black walnut I've seen anywhere, mixed in with some sycamores, elms, and other species. Regrettably I walked through that section without carefully measuring, as it was the first I passed through, but it's conveniently accessed. Many of the village-owned parcels have seen repeated logging and do have well established logging roads, but in spite of this many of the young tuliptrees still exceed 120' and even 130' right along the trail. One tuliptree near a village facility in the gorge bottom becomes Chautauqua County's new tallest measured broadleaf tree, and tall hemlocks started showing up in the same spot, which was the furthest upstream I went so far- past this the terrain becomes much more rugged, which may have restricted logging access and therefore more tall trees. The RHI10 for Chautauqua Gorge now comes to 122.3. There is a lot to explore in the village-owned sections, and I have also secured permission to make measurements on one of the large private parcels, whose owner is of a conservation mindset and has chosen not to log even as the surrounding landowners have gone through multiple cutting cycles. I'm hopeful that this gorge will join the ranks of NY sites with RHI10s exceeding 130, when all is said and done. About 60% of these measurements were made with my old Bushnell, which I keep in my car as a backup- hadn't planned on measuring the first day I was out. It's not reliable on bare twigs, so some of these may go up (like the Basswood, I hope).
If you'll pardon the fisheye distortion, from left to right are the 107.1' red oak, the 118.5' basswood, the 111.1' tall red oak (the largest tree of the group by far, perspective distortion makes it seem smaller) and the 115.9' sugar maple.
If you'll pardon the fisheye distortion, from left to right are the 107.1' red oak, the 118.5' basswood, the 111.1' tall red oak (the largest tree of the group by far, perspective distortion makes it seem smaller) and the 115.9' sugar maple.
Tree Heights from recent Scouting:

Tuliptree
137'
132.5'
126'
124.5'
123'
Eastern Hemlock
119'
111'
American Basswood Most aesthetic specimen I've ever seen, maybe a little under 3'dbh
118.5'
Cottonwood
116.8'
Sugar Maple
115.9'
Black Maple
96.9'
Bitternut Hickory
115.2'
109'
Northern Red Oak
111.1'
107.1'
Black Walnut
106.8'
Sycamore
110.5'

User avatar
Erik Danielsen
Posts: 875
Joined: Mon Mar 17, 2014 5:46 pm

Re: Chautauqua Creek Gorge

Post by Erik Danielsen » Wed Mar 14, 2018 7:09 pm

Saturday 3/10 I had a couple more hours in the gorge in the morning. The further upstream I went, the better it got! I am now firmly convinced that in its old-growth state the trees here would have been on par with zoar (and some, like hemlock, even better!). Most of what I've encountered so far seems to be old regrowth, and where the terrain might turn up old-growth pockets I imagine there may be some surprises.

Tuliptree
141' / 8.07'cbh
140.9' / 6.99'cbh
Sycamore
140.3' / 5.9'cbh
126.86'/ 5.81'cbh
125.46'
Eastern Hemlock
128.34'/ 7.87'cbh
125.86'/ 11.44'cbh huge, but second-growth or was a young tree released by early logging, as branches go far down trunk and taper is relatively rapid
121 85'/ too steep
Bitternut Hickory
121.6' / 6.7'cbh
White Ash
117.49'/ 5.44'cbh
Cucumber Magnolia
106.47'/ 5.41'cbh

Black Birch right around 100' is also common. I'm set on finding taller individuals to record. RHI10 for Chautauqua Gorge is now 127.6 and seems to rise every time I round another bend. Photos later.

User avatar
Don
Posts: 1569
Joined: Tue Mar 09, 2010 12:42 am

Re: Chautauqua Creek Gorge

Post by Don » Wed Mar 14, 2018 7:57 pm

Eric-
With five visits, covering a fair bit of ground, your photos and narratives are well matched, and I suspect you've a good grasp of the stand history, from what you've seen in the here and now.
You mention,

"The ground flora is some of the lushest I've seen anywhere and consists entirely of native species, many of which are uncommon or rare. "
(Covers the heterogeneity of the plant community mosaic)
and,
"There is a significant amount of downed woody material, and it seems to decay very rapidly." (Covers the coarse woody debris component).

What I began to wonder after perusing your descriptions, was could it be that this is a stand/landscape that experienced a fairly broad disturbance (either man-made or natural) that effectively started the stand over, with the exception of a few larger/older trees. What I see a lot of, are a lot of tall, slender boles with rather small crowns at the top...this would look to me, like stands that have been competing with each other for awhile, and are just starting to grab some "selfish" sun light. I think this stand if left undisturbed, would have a good run at becoming an old-growth stand.

Next time you're out there, perhaps you might take note of the bark characteristics. In my time in New England (three years while going to UMASS), I tramped over a fair bit of forests in Massachusetts, and the one of the most defining old-growth features was the difference between second-growth and old-growth bark characteristics, to the point that many folks wouldn't recognize old-growth, even though they were very familiar and competent in identifying second-growth species.
Another dependable defining feature is the size and gnarliness of the upper branches, displaying scars and injuries from a century or more of inclement weather (ice storms, wind, snow loading such as was seen by many in the last storm to come through the East/Northeast).
Sorry to ramble on!
-Don
Don Bertolette - President/Moderator, WNTS BBS
Restoration Forester (Retired)
Science Center
Grand Canyon National Park

BJCP Apprentice Beer Judge

View my Alaska Big Tree List Webpage at:
http://www.akbigtreelist.org

User avatar
Erik Danielsen
Posts: 875
Joined: Mon Mar 17, 2014 5:46 pm

Re: Chautauqua Creek Gorge

Post by Erik Danielsen » Fri Mar 16, 2018 11:37 am

Good questions, Don. I should clarify first that the quotes and notes your referring to discuss just one stand in the gorge (Stand A in the following maps), which is the same one discussed in the first two posts. The more recent posts are from a section of gorge about 4 miles downstream, which are very different in some important ways. Time for some maps!
Areas explored so far: "A" is the location of the stand in the first two posts, "B" the 3/8 post with the tall Basswood, and C and slightly upstream the most recent post with the 140'+ trees. "D" is the rough location of a private parcel I've gotten permission to access that has promising sections, and "E" is a wide area with rich alluvial terraces (back to public ownership) that may be most promising of all, if not too intensively logged.
Areas explored so far: "A" is the location of the stand in the first two posts, "B" the 3/8 post with the tall Basswood, and C and slightly upstream the most recent post with the 140'+ trees. "D" is the rough location of a private parcel I've gotten permission to access that has promising sections, and "E" is a wide area with rich alluvial terraces (back to public ownership) that may be most promising of all, if not too intensively logged.
Stand A closer up, with the orange line designating the gorge rim and the yellow line is the ridge that divides the two sub-terraces.
Stand A closer up, with the orange line designating the gorge rim and the yellow line is the ridge that divides the two sub-terraces.
The part of stand A that I've intensively measured I do believe to be old growth, with some alterations. I believe that previously this would have been a beech-maple dominated northern hardwoods old growth stand, in which white ash and black cherry take on a "gap-dependent canopy emergent" role, with a stable gap-phase dynamic (more pronounced due to slopes in some spots). The very high, narrow crowns referred to are mainly white ash, but other species are more varied. However, beech bark disease has almost entirely removed the beech component of the canopy. The remaining sugar maple canopy is heterogenous in containing both broader and more narrow crowns with varying degrees of evident age, but include definite old individuals. My initial assessment of few old trees was in part due to my concentration on tall trees, and the oldest ones are generally sugar maples in the main canopy between 105-115' tall. The recent exit of beech has spurred a release of young growth, mostly sugar maple and beech. I'll add a couple more images.
Typical scene with old sugar maples and black cherry, but also a lot of understory growth.
Typical scene with old sugar maples and black cherry, but also a lot of understory growth.
By bark and crown character this white ash is one of the older ones, compared to the younger narrow-crowned tree I included a photo of in the first post.
By bark and crown character this white ash is one of the older ones, compared to the younger narrow-crowned tree I included a photo of in the first post.
Downstream by points B and C there has been a much more varied and recent disturbance history, and while there are old components on the slopes the majority on the flats appear to be various ages of regrowth, including these two trees.
The 140.9' Tuliptree.
The 140.9' Tuliptree.
The 140.3' Sycamore
The 140.3' Sycamore
I expect working through the gorge I'll continue to encounter a lot of diversity in stand characteristics and disturbance history. Lastly, here's a couple images from when I was a teenager, closer to point E on the map.
Looking into the gorge from the rim.
Looking into the gorge from the rim.
Up on one of the narrow "hogsback" ridges in a section of hairpin turns.
Up on one of the narrow "hogsback" ridges in a section of hairpin turns.
This is the remains of a previous very interesting formation, a long sloping "hogsback" of glacially deposited silt. I'm sure the gradual washing downstream of this material benefited the soil texture of downstream alluvial terraces, perhaps contributing to the growth of these young 140' hardwoods.
This is the remains of a previous very interesting formation, a long sloping "hogsback" of glacially deposited silt. I'm sure the gradual washing downstream of this material benefited the soil texture of downstream alluvial terraces, perhaps contributing to the growth of these young 140' hardwoods.

User avatar
Erik Danielsen
Posts: 875
Joined: Mon Mar 17, 2014 5:46 pm

Re: Chautauqua Creek Gorge

Post by Erik Danielsen » Tue May 15, 2018 11:16 am

4/27 I entered Chautauqua Gorge to explore an extensive gorge-bottom parcel in private ownership. The owner is an artist with a love for the aesthetics and ecology of the gorge, and he has been kind to the trees in the time he's owned the land (well over 50 years). Across the stream from his land is more Village of Westfield property. This is a narrow section of hairpin turns, starting at about point "D" on the map in the previous post and extending a few turns upstream. The terraces here are small and the trees mostly appear to be old second-growth, like much of the rest of the gorge. One of the larger terraces, the furthest I went upstream on that visit, must have hosted some excellent primary forest based on the many mature ashes that get to around 130' tall. When I have a chance to get further upstream, to where the terraces widen and the hairpin turns have long since smoothed out, anything that hasn't been logged too hard is bound to have some top-notch trees. Trees in this list are marked "P" if located on the private parcel, "VW" if within the Village of Westfield land.

Tuliptree
135.5' / 8.49'cbh P upland
White Ash
130.8' / 6.07'cbh VW
129.55' / 6.3'cbh P
123.5' / VW
121' / 6.31'cbh P
117' / 7.9'cbh P
Eastern Cottonwood
128.7' / double P
Black Cherry
124.1' / 6.63'cbh P
118.5' / 4.26'cbh P upland
115.5' / 6.07'cbh P upland
Red Maple
120.44' / 8.2'cbh VW
Sugar Maple
115.5' / 7.22'cbh VW
112.5' / 5.24'cbh P
Black Maple
115' / 5.15'cbh P
114' / 8.69'cbh VW
Northern Red Oak
116.5' / 9.22'cbh P exceptional form
American Beech
111.55' / 6.56' c@3' P
Black Birch
109.42' / 5.31'cbh P
Attachments
Purple Bittercress- a NYS Threatened species, not flowering yet.
Purple Bittercress- a NYS Threatened species, not flowering yet.
Base of the tall Black Birch
Base of the tall Black Birch

Post Reply

Return to “New York”