Kelsey Tract and Cheoah Hemlock

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eliahd24
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Kelsey Tract and Cheoah Hemlock

Post by eliahd24 » Sat Jul 16, 2011 3:53 pm

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting the Kelsey Tract of old growth forest outside of Highlands, NC. Jess Riddle had given me directions, but I also hooked up with Kyle from the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust and he ended up leading the tour. It was a wonderful day with temp's in the upper 60's, drizzle, and fog. Sure felt good after a heat index of 110 3 days earlier in Atlanta.

We met at 10am and immediately headed down the steep slope. Our group included some research colleagues from Southern Polytechnic State University who are helping me core and age old growth in Fernbank Forest, along with a few other friends and tree enthusiasts. None but Kyle had ever seen Cheoah in person, so needless to say we were all quite excited.

From the very start, this forest amazed me. A truly primordial feel. Everything was damp and the layer of leaf litter and duff was spongy soft. So many fungi, mosses, lichen, herbs, etc. And fantastically big, twisted, gnarly trees!

Video of our approach:
http://youtu.be/CPV6U-QYsxk

It doesn't take long to get to Cheoah and it kind of snuck up on me (or me on it). It's really awe inspiring. Our whole group just got silent as it came into view.

Choeah on video:
http://youtu.be/G-GPW91OdPc

This is the view from the side of the opposite slope- it just dominates:
Cheoah in fog.jpg
This picture turned out blurry, but I kinda like it that way:
blurry Cheoah and me.jpg
Kyle informed me that a large tree adjacent to Cheoah had come down last year and finally fell all the way to the ground over this past (harsh) winter. Cheoah now truly stands alone. It's a very healthy looking tree with lots of green growth from top to bottom. I only saw a few small sprigs of dead branches at the very top (through my rangefinder).

Measuring trees was not my primary goal for this trip, it was more just for the experience of being amongst the last giant hemlock known to exist. I did, however, get a rough height (via SIN method) for Cheoah. It came out to 163.2'. Will climbed this tree within the last year, so I'm sure he did an extremely accurate tape drop at that time as well.

The area surrounding Cheoah (the valley if you will) is loaded with big hemlocks. Kyle showed me a number of big hits from LIDAR on a map he had printed out. I'm sure Jess and Will have combed this area pretty good, but I'd love to come back after leaf drop (but before bitter cold and snow) and do some extensive surveying of big trees. I'd especially like to see how tall the Fraser Magnolias get in this area. They seem to dominate unlike cucumber magnolia in many other forests of the area
multi trunk fraser magnolia.jpg
hemlock stand.jpg
After spending time with Cheoah we bee-lined it straight up the hill to reach the ancient Carolina Hemlock forest on the opposite ridgetop. What a task! Though only about 250 yards away, it was around 400' vertical and solid rhodo's and even thicker doghobble! It really thinned out near the top though and a wonderful elphine forest appeared:
dwarf ridge top forest.jpg
The maples and fraser mag's were about the same height as the mountain laurel! I'm told that this is the oldest (cored) stand of Carolina Hemlock as well. We saw quite a few up top. Many were fairly healthy, some were sickly and heavily damaged from adelgids, some were completely dead:
sad Carolina hemlock.jpg
After some time at the top, we bush-whacked back down. One friend trampled some ground bees and got a couple nasty stings, but thankfully we had benadryl on hand and she was not allergic.

It's amazing how fast time flies when you're wandering around massive trees and old growth in an utterly amazed stupor. We easily spent 2.5 hours at the site in what seemed like the blink of an eye.

In closing, I'd like to mention that Kyle is interested in doing some light trail maintenance in fall/winter and I think a small ENTS crew (tarheel ENTS especially) could really help him out in this endeavor. I know I want to go back and I'll use any excuse. These are just narrow social trails that the land trust uses and this area is NOT open to the public. It's far too sensitive and special. Kyle and everyone at the land trust were very welcoming and accomodating to me (being a total stranger) and they seem to really appreciate the work ENTS does, including documenting these exceptional forests and treating the hemlocks for those damned horrid adelgids.

So, any takers on a future trip to Cheoah??

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jamesrobertsmith
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Re: Kelsey Tract and Cheoah Hemlock

Post by jamesrobertsmith » Sat Jul 16, 2011 5:53 pm

I've hiked in that area through forests with no live hemlocks at all. I assume that these have been treated?

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eliahd24
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Re: Kelsey Tract and Cheoah Hemlock

Post by eliahd24 » Sat Jul 16, 2011 7:57 pm

Oh yes. Heavily treated.

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bbeduhn
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Re: Kelsey Tract and Cheoah Hemlock

Post by bbeduhn » Mon Jul 18, 2011 11:09 am

I'd be interested in doing some trail maintenance. I'm less than two hours away.

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eliahd24
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Re: Kelsey Tract and Cheoah Hemlock

Post by eliahd24 » Mon Jul 18, 2011 11:11 am

Cool- shoot me your email off list @ eli_dickerson@yahoo.com

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Will Blozan
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Re: Kelsey Tract and Cheoah Hemlock

Post by Will Blozan » Mon Jul 18, 2011 3:53 pm

Eli,

The last tape drop of the Cheoah was in 2006 at 158.7'. Due to HWA damage I would expect it to not have changed much in height. I last climbed it in 2010 and the top leader was still alive but not doing much. I'm glad you were able to see it and now by default, you have seen the largest and the tallest Tsuga canadensis currently known!

This tree is a powerhouse of recovery.

Will

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eliahd24
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Re: Kelsey Tract and Cheoah Hemlock

Post by eliahd24 » Mon Jul 18, 2011 8:37 pm

WIll- I'm glad you posted. I was wondering about that erroneous height I got. I think I know what happened. I had to measure from two different spots. One on the side of the slope where I shot from the tiptop to a large crooked limb down low. Then I went down near the base and shot from the base to that same limb. Turns out there were TWO limbs that looked almost the same and I think I measured the lower of the two, thus giving a few extra feet. I did note measurements to both limbs on my data sheet, however, and my corrected measurement is 158 and some change. Pretty dang close!

Oh and yes- this is a truly amazing specimen and surely a master at recovery!

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eliahd24
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Re: Kelsey Tract and Cheoah Hemlock

Post by eliahd24 » Tue Jul 19, 2011 3:33 pm

156.4' actually. pretty close to 158.7'.

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