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Re: Sipsey Poplar, May 2010

Hi. New to the ENTS website via information given at the Georgia Master Naturalist course taught at the Chattahoochee Nature Center in Roswell, GA.

I grew up in Florence, AL and spent many years hiking Bankhead and the Sipsey in the late 1960s and 1970s. Next to nothing was written about the Sipsey then until local outdoorsman/naturalist/Native American Mr. Lamar Marshall became proactive in protecting the area in a literal battle with the National Forest supervisor of the time (eventually proven to have been taking payments from loggers to open up the forest to logging - this was before Wilderness designation). Marshall spearheaded created of Wild South in order to protect notable wilderness in Alabama and the south in general. There was a magazine by the same name for some time in which Lamar shared is encyclopedia of Bankhead knowledge both as a naturalist and Native American.

Lamar has cataloged the location of Native American trails, caves used, marker trees and even glyphed trees (the Sun Tree). He knows things about Bankhead that no other human knows.

Lamar is still around, though I don't see discussion board posts or emails from him these days. However, he and his wife come visit the knitting circle my mother is in!

Sometime around the late 60s the Bee Branch Scenic Area was created to protect the cove with the Big Tree. At that time the Northwest Rd. passed less than 2 miles away and there was a jeep road that ended near the Giant Gall Tree. There was also an Indian marker tree nearby (quite a few still exist in Bankhead). In college we used to take an afternoon to drive down from UNA for a walk in the forest, contemplate the Big Tree and take a shower under the waterfall. Ticks don't get bad until late April, so we wouldn't go in the summer until early fall.

At that time the forest was more pristine. East Bee Branch Cove still had a loamy forest floor. Wildflowers and woody plants grew just a few feet from Big Tree (same is true of Eye of the Needle rock area, the Rapids beach area, Whiteoak Hollow, et al). I clearly remember bushwhacking through mountain laurel to get to the top of Bee Branch Falls. I've not checked but I'm inclined to think that rainfall has tapered off over the past 40 years in that area because the Sipsey in general does not seem as lush - or maybe it's because the ridge top pine forest was killed of by the pine bark beatle, the increased sunlight altering the environment to create a drier type of forest.

As for the crown height of the Big Tree, it seems that it was indeed 151-153 feet in 1969. A violent tornado ripped a mile wide swath through the Sipsey in spring 1974 (I think, may have been '73) northwest of Borden Creek. That storm ripped off the top of the Big Tree and left it around 130-135 feet tall, as I recall. (I could research the details but don't have the time available to do that, but the info is out there). The harsh, freezing winter of 1980 also caused a lot of damage. The Sipsey was totally frozen over and all the waterfalls had giant "volcanos" of ice at the base. A lot of marginal trees died that year. A few years later another huge ice storm hit northwest Alabama that lasted for weeks, damaging or killing off a lot of healthy trees.

Bankhead lays in the Tornado Ally area of northwest Alabama and has seen it's share of bad storms. A couple other tornados hit the forest around 1998. During the holidays that year (when I was visiting my parents as I then lived in TX and OK) a killer ice storm hit. A lot of hemlocks couldn't handle the ice weight and toppled over.

The early 2000s were severe draught years, which severely weakened many of the huge trees in ridges and heads of coves. Then a hurricane blew through knocking down thousands of huge tulip trees and oaks, which in turn took down some of the giant hemlocks.

I've no idea of the damage caused by the tornado outbreak of April, 2011 but can't help but think it considerable.

The beauty that nature has created in the network of canyons in the Sipsey also has provided the energy to destroy it - but it's part of the natural cycle (though who can say how much of global warming is natural and how much caused by man?).

My current fear for the Sipsey is the hemlock wooly adelgid. That parasite has reached the hemlocks on Lookout Mountain. Though the Sipsey, Dismals and other northwest Alabama hemlock sites are geographically disconnected from the Lookout Mountain hemlock habitats, I fear that man and nature will unintentionally introduce the wooly adelgid to the glacial remnant forest of Bankhead. There is plenty of info available to save specimen trees so I hope that the many volunteer organizations and National Forest directors have a plan in place to mitigate the invader (I'm on a mitigation crew to treat hemlocks at Helton Creek Falls in the north Georgia mountains-Helton Creek is just below where the AT crosses Neils Gap and the Mountain Crossings Outfitter store).

I'm excited to join ENTS and look forward to gaining knowledge from this fabulous group of tree fanatics!
Kindest regards,
by Drala Hiker
Tue Nov 06, 2012 2:17 pm
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Re: Hemlock southern extent in GA?

Thanks, Jess.

I know there are taller hemlock specimens, I'd just never seen any mention of the ones on Slaughter Creek. Most have been treated at least once and Georgia Save the Hemlocks is going to treat more in the Slaughter Creek/Lake Winfield Scott area the last weekend in April.

Just to add to the database location for southerly hemlocks in Georgia:

I was at North Georgia Canopy Tours near Lula, GA the other day (to play disc golf, didn't do the zipline). The manager said they had 5 hemlocks on the property and that all were naturally occuring. I saw 4 of them. The oldest, largest girth was a split trunk tree at the base of a hill on the NE side, just above the floodplain for a creek. The site was an old farm and chicken establishment.

The others were much younger and mixed into a young hardwood forest that to my untrained eye was 20-30 years old. Three of them were within 100 feet of the top of the hill, 1230 elev or so according to Google Earth (sorry, didn't take any data recording device with me). The other, larger (50 ft?) hemlock was on the side of a creek drainage that was fairly well protected.

Approximate coordinates for the largest, oldest helmock are:
34 22'05.13 N, 83 41'46.61 W, elev. 1143 ft.

The site is in Hall County, though less than 2 miles from the Habersham County line.

by Drala Hiker
Sat Apr 12, 2014 11:17 pm
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