Valhalla

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#1)  Valhalla

Postby greenent22 » Mon Oct 13, 2014 2:52 am

I ended up accidentally finally checking out the Valhalla VT Eastern Hemlock Glen.

It is described in "Old Growth in the East" as a 30 acre never cut Eastern Hemlock ravine with some oaks.

My quick peak of the ravine general area suggests or found:

1. Every single Eastern Hemlock of any size at all is 100% dead :(. They were all soooooo easily accessible too. It wouldn't been trivially easy to have treated with adelgid pesticide. There area handful of tiny little 1' saplings alive and that is it for Eastern Hemlocks.

2. On the brighter side, the ravine wasn't dominated by Eastern Hemlocks. It had some number, but the bulk was actually various hardwoods. So it's nothing like Sparta Glen where once the Eastern Hemlocks died you literally went from a towering forest to a wide open extensive meadow. This still feels like a mostly closed canopy forest. It must've been really, really spectacular with the Eastern Hemlocks though. Also, the hardwoods are not totally oak dominated as the report in EOG implies, there are some oaks to be certain, but also some nice Sugar Maples and a few grand Tuliptrees and others as well.

3. One medium smaller Eastern Hemlock trunk that had been cut to clear the path (It turns out this is not the expected bushwack but has a very wide trail going through it. This is an ultra easy location. You literally drive right up and park in old forest without even taking a single step.) and I got around 160 rings. That was maybe 8-10' up from the base. I took a clear photo and will do a more careful count at a later date. A much larger trunk actually seemed to come out to a similar count. I do wonder a little as to whether it is a true virgin not once ever cut forest. It's interesting, but there appears to have been perhaps zero blow down at all from Sandy in the entire region. Perhaps because it is shielded by a steep ridge to the east. And the western ridge I suppose helps protect against prevailing western winds.

4. It does have lots of really nice trees though. I'd say it probably does have the overall grandest trees I've seen anywhere in the NJ Highlands. Very grand and 100% forest grown type. No open grown types at all. Mixed age. That said the bark and upper branches aren't quite 100% horrible tangled and creaky looking as you sometimes see in never cut parts of the Adirondacks. The trees are probably grander than the 185+ year old forest I keep talking about in my other post in another part of the NJ Highlands, but I'm not entirely sure the bark looks any older, in some ways almost less at times. The trees have a certain extreme grander that is hard to describe though. It's confusing, in some ways each forest looks older than the other. They are some mighty trees though. Very grand stuff. The trees in the other patch seemed to have formed a denser canopy a bit more tightly close in and with more of an upreach overall. Here the giant trees tended to have a bit more spreading tops and less pure upreach and with the canopy not quite as closed off and roof like.

5. SHOCKING: the entire eastern and western slopes rising up from Lake Valhalla, outside of the preserve appear to be covered in rather similar forest, perhaps overall a trace less grand, but in a couple spots almost more. So the area of forest that is without any doubt 100% 100 years or older and very largely all at least 150 years old or older and much of which might even be 180+ or, if other claims are trusted?, over 200+ is actually an acreage of more like 250 nearly contiguous acres! This would be the largest chunk of grand northern hardwood forest in the entire region in the highlands zone! BUT the additional 220 acres are all 100% riddled with housing developments!!!!!! Aghhh!!
On the plus side they were careful builders and left max trees so every space between houses is wooded and all the backlots and sidelots are all uncut forest and lots of trees left in front, side, back lawns so the houses are largely deeply nestled into the woods as about as much as you'll for houses. But my gosh what could have been! A few houses look quite old, likely dating to the 1940s so at least a few homes were likely about the lake for a long time and quite a numebr look like late 60s and 70s construction. So even by the time people started understanding more about conservation loss in general there had been some development throughout. However, it's clear that quite a lot of the homes are more like 90s and even likely 00s construction, some of the very large mansions types they put up starting then and a couple lots looking even just recently built. I almost feel like 40% of the 220 acres was woods maybe free of homes as late as the mid to late 90s, although would've been in a fairly fragmented style even then, like house, big empty lot a few in a row, house, then more empty, etc. I feel that at late as 1960 there may have been large chunks of it not too fragmented much at all though. Man, man, if people had only known this one of the most unique sites in the highlands mountain area maybe within 60 or even 120 miles. We may have a preserve of 250 acres with just a few homes and couple simple roads scattered about it where the entire forest areas were all 100 years old or more and the bulk of it at least 150+ years old and fairly grand in form. As it is, it's 220 acres of generally rather large and fancy homes and an incredibly beautiful suburb, beautiful, large homes nestled in fantastic trees with little 1/8 and 1/2 acre woodlots of old trees contiguously scattering all throughout. They left so many tees that an aerial count might almost have nearing half the 220 acres not as home or lawn, but it's simply so utterly fragmented it'd be hard to call it 100 acres of old forest or anything since it's just all in dozens of little connected or partially connected bits. I'm not sure if anywhere else in the entire region would've have a 250 acre or so contiguous area where the entire thing is all at least 100 years old and nearly all 125+ years old and the bulk probably even 150+ years old. Some of Rockaway in the WML and Beech Glen areas has extensive areas of 85+ years old with 100-125 year old areas (some also with development riddled through, but also large chunks of hundreds of acres of all woods and a few smaller bits of a handful of acres scattered about where it is 150 or more years old). That total area is more acreage, but it's not the 250 of mostly 150+ old grand that this would've been.

OMG if ever there was an area where the lands should have been prioritized to buy up empty lot by lot the instant the big preseve drive started around 1991 this was one! Perhaps the last remaining such treasure in the entire region.

Anyway I guess I find a second place where you can live in a house in the highland forest region and have 125-150+ year old trees towering all around your home in all directions.

Anyway take it all with a bit of a grain of salt, I was jsut glancing around while driving and lots of cars kept coming and maybe I over-estimated some stuff and so on or under some.

I have a few poor pics of the developed areas and lots of nice ones of the woods preserve area (the 30 acres Valhalla Gorge preserve is surrounded by at least 750 acres of woods to the north of it, I noticed driving some boundary roads the northern portion of that 750 acres or so is definitely younger forest, although not really young at all, same for the western far border. The really good stuff all seemed to be in the feeder ravine to Lake Valhalla and the slopes rising up on either side of the lake area. There may have been another 100 acres of old woods if the river hadn't been damned to form the lake, but I believe the lake was probably formed at least 70-80 years ago? Who knows what was in that part anyway. It seems like the loggers only hit this area in the whole ravine bowl where the river and lake are once a long time ago if ever and then at some points some selective logging, likely all of that done in whatever fashion necessary to ahve left it all at least 100 years old and probably all at leat 125 years old and some probably 150 or even 200 years old (maybe the report is even correct that some was never cut??? it is grand looking, although in some ways the bark isn't quite like ancient adirondack bark in those parts that seem untouched for hundreds of years).

The spiraled a lot of new development off the western side of the western slope it looks like over the last 40 years, most of looking like within 15 years and some still under ongoing construction. Most of those areas looked to be younger (although still nicely grown) for sure but I did notice that there seemed to be a few scattered trees around that looked like in the gorge. It looks like 4 nice ones are about to be cut down for new houses. Scattered though, only 0-2 big ones per very large lot, so just a few scattered remnants and nothing like over the other side where it was all continous like that. In one huge new development with insane mega mansions (I swear they must be like 15,000 square foot homes or something, over the top of over the top, didn't see stuff half that big in Beverly Hills) I did see a couple areas where it looked like some 125-150 year old forest had been left scattered about in the lands the chopped up now, maybe there had been an acre here or there like that, mostly it looked like 60-100 year old forests though. One new development I got 100 year ring counts on the largest cut trees, most of the trees were smaller. So it doesn't seem like that stuff paved over any extensive continguous 125+ year old stuff, although maybe a few beautiful forest remnants here or there or a few 0.5-1.5 acre older bits widely scattered.

Anyway for the rocky, mountainous, glacial till, northern highlands type region this Valhalla area seemed like it the largest chunk of grand forest about. (I still wonder what is in the hard to access ravines in the Abraham Hewit forest at the NY State border though. I have a forest report of NJ that says two long ravines there were 100% virgin timber as of 1905. Part of me wonders if they ever got in there. Access looks tricky for logging. I wonder what is in there or if the state did destroy a possible 80 or more acres of 100% never cut virgin timber in some 1930s-1950s time frame. Driving by the road that cuts above at the end it's hard to get a great look. It seems like it might be a bit old looking to have been cut too recently in which case.... but it's hard to get a clear look into the ravines area.)

Anyway, a tentative report and I could be very wrong about a great many things I've said all around.

Sometimes forest can be very confusing, especially in this highlands region. There is one patch right off Route 15 near Mase Mtn. where the trees have ZERO sign of old age, modest crowns tightly packed, no ancient bark, modest stature, no pit and mound, you could absolutely utterly swear they are 60 years old. But some guy cut the ones they went onto the edge of his property and I was stunned beyond words to get 160+ ring counts! And these were like YOUNG looking 10-12" trunks! I don't get it. I can only think the area was repeatedly clearcut and then heavily farmed and then hideously burned and nothing was left in the soil, very weird. I did notice that across the ravine from that the trees looked much bigger and using satellite maps some ravines not too far away cutting the other direction had crowns really popping in the way they seem to in spots where forest gets to be 125-150+. I bet there could be a couple chunks of 50-100 acres of 150+ year old stuff back in there in addition to the weird young, small looking 160 year old 15+ acre chunk above the ravine.

Much of the Jonathon section of the NJ Highlands (about 400-500 acres) seems to be 80-90 years old, I noticed a couple section within that appear to be older. Might be a few patches of a few acres of 125-180year old stuff in there.

Lots of WML and behind the quarry area and such seems to be 90-100 years old for some hundreds of acres with perhaps numbers of areas of many tens of acres that are 125+ years old. And also a few young 50 year old areas.

Actually considering that I've not heard of any or even any much logging happen in the entire region for more than 45 years and that most of the area was said to already have well beyond sapling/early pole timber then, I bet a real, real lot of NJ forest has not been cut for 75 years. In fact I bet it's even hard to find much acreage at all that is under 60 years and probably not even a lot is under 75. I bet the 100 year class adds up to quite a good number of acres too, gotta be hundreds of acres across the whole highlands, quite many hundreds in the 100 year class I'd think. True virgin timber is vanishingly rare though and even what you can really call old-growth as well. The 150-185 that is grand looking is also much more isolated, but there are bits to be found around (and I've noticed there are some areas that have 140-160 class trees that seem to hide out and just are not as grand and in one case as far from grand as you can fathom, I mean I know lots of 85 year old areas that looked way older than that one 160 year old bit). Up in Vermont it seems the forests are actually far younger on average. In Vermont forest seems to be threatened by logging far and away and in NJ by development.
Last edited by greenent22 on Mon Oct 13, 2014 3:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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#2)  Re: Valhalla

Postby dbhguru » Mon Oct 13, 2014 8:46 am

Greenent22,

  Thanks for a great report. Stuff to be sad about. Stuff to be glad about. And you raise some good discussion points. One is: what are the physical age characteristics of trees grown on depleted soils?

  You close with a point that I agree with. As a whole, Vermont's forests are young. Most of the trees I see driving along roadways are spindly.  When I've mentioned to friends that they can see far more inspiring trees, well, even in New Jersey, they seem surprised.  

Bob
Robert T. Leverett
Co-founder and Executive Director
Native Native Tree Society
Co-founder and President
Friends of Mohawk Trail State Forest
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#3)  Re: Valhalla

Postby Erik Danielsen » Mon Oct 13, 2014 9:58 am

Only had time to skim for now, but your age speculations bring to mind a hemlock i recently cored which yielded just 130 rings at a nearly 13 foot circumference, with a rough (read: bad) extrapolation to about 150 to the pith. It looks a lot older by sight. A fallen hemlock that had been cut to clear the trail nearby counted 170ish rings probably 30 feet up, and was a much narrower tree. Discerning age characteristics can be quite a challenge especially when site variables come into play.
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#4)  Re: Valhalla

Postby greenent22 » Mon Oct 13, 2014 3:30 pm

dbhguru wrote:Greenent22,
And you raise some good discussion points. One is: what are the physical age characteristics of trees grown on depleted soils?


Yes. I also found it interesting that one that one patch the trees were not just modest in stature, but also looked young. They didn't seem to have very old bark or crowns or roots or anything. On windswept sights and in brutal conditions I've encountered ancient trees that looked ancient to some degree if you looked at the gnarl and bark even though modest in stature. I wonder if those ones started out maintaining younger looking characterstics for their first 100-150 years than typical too or not? If anything I perhaps tend to think stuff is older than it is on average, but this time it turned out to be nearing 3x older than I thought! What a strange little patch. Maybe it's like some of the experiments where they've starved worms and such and that ended up keeping them immature and young looking for a long time. Perhaps something in the soil had been depleted in a way that led them to look young while being oldish?? Although I'm not sure plants and animals would necessarily share such a pathway.
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#5)  Re: Valhalla

Postby greenent22 » Wed Oct 15, 2014 8:25 pm

Quick first photo from the grove:
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#6)  Re: Valhalla

Postby greenent22 » Wed Oct 15, 2014 8:43 pm

Another quick initial upload:
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