Royal Gorge, Kitsuma Trail, Pisgah Nat'l Forest, NC

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bbeduhn
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Royal Gorge, Kitsuma Trail, Pisgah Nat'l Forest, NC

Post by bbeduhn » Fri Mar 28, 2014 11:58 am

I used to run on this trail fequently and it was the site of my first ever mountain bike ride. It climbs on switchbacks and then runs a very dry ridge with screaming downhills and then into a gorge. The ridge tops are dominated by pitch pine, chestnut oak, table mountain pine, mountain laurel and Carolina hemlock. Will Blozan recently treated the Carolina hemlocks and I'm happy to report that I found just a handful of dead ones. Most of the younger trees have about a quarter of the needles they should but the larger ones have at least half. They're not flourishing but they are hanging on nicely.

On the steep sides of Young's Ridge, laurel thickets tend to dominate near the top but then they open up nicely and provide for serious tall tree habitat. The first cove I visited was east facing. Tulips dominated with absolutely no undergrowth. Heights ran from the mid 120's to the mid 130's. They weren't spry, young tulips. They were starting to get some cragginess in their crowns. These appeared to be in the 80-90 year range and likely won't get all that much taller.

I checked out google maps and saw that a fine north facing cove lay on the other side of the laurel thicket that lined the trail. If tulips reached the mid 130's on an east and south exposure, they should do quite well on a northern exposure. They did quite well, along with much more species diversity. It wasn't as steep as expected and the thicket wasn't impenetrable.

The lower part of the trail enters a north facing gorge. The trees didn't appear to be superlative toward the top of the gorge but they looked promising. I did a second visit to make sure the numbers were correct. Hemlocks dominate the very bottom of the gorge. The largest ones are dead, likely 130's with a few 140's in their former glory. Girths topped 3.5' diameter on the dead ones. Plenty more have been treated and are doing well to hanging on. In the picnic area at the bottom, a few are in absolutely pristine condition. A short loop trail leads to a ghostyard of hemlocks which saw no treatment.

Now for the numbers:

North facing cove highlights

acer rubrum 123.4'

quercus montana 124.5'

quercus alba 126.9' 123.0'

carya alba 118.4'

liriodendron tulipifera 152.7' 153.2'

Gorge highlights

quercus montana 135.2' 131.5'

quercus alba 138.4'

quercus velotina 131.9'

quercus rubra 134.7'

carya alba 122.3'

carya glabra 140.4' 132.8'

tsuga canadensis 125.3' 124.5'

betula lenta 108.0'

Liriodendron tulipifera 166.7' 151.3' 149.2' 148.9' 147.0' 145.4'


On the way to the trail, I stopped at sweeping curve in the road when I noticed some height in the trees.

platanus occidentalis 135.8'

quercus alba 126.5'

liriodendron tulipifera 156.4' 151.4' 149.6' 142.2'

quercus montana 115.8'

Overall numbers for Kitzuma, including the cove and gorge numbers, discluding the road numbers:

Tsuga canadensis eastern hemlock 125.3' 124.5' 122.3' 120.9' 120.3' 117.2'

Quercus alba white oak 138.4' 126.9' 123.0' 118.9' 117.7' 116.9' 116.8' 115.9' 115.4'

Quercus montana chestnut oak 135.2' 131.5' 124.5' 120.0' 118.5'

Quercus rubra red oak 134.7' 122.1' 120.3' 119.7' 119.1'

Quercus velotina black oak 131.9' 122.3' 112.5' 112.1' 109.5'

Acer rubrum red maple 123.4' 116.3'

Fagus grandifolia beech 115.8'

Betula lenta black birch 108.0' 101.0' 100.2' 95.7' 91.3'

Liriodendron tulipifera tuliptree 166.7' 153.2' 152.7' 151.3' 149.2' 148.9' 148.3' 147.0' 145.4' 144.3'
143.2' 140.5' 139.4' 138.8' 135.0' 134.0'

Carya alba mockernut hickory 122.3' 119.2' 118.4' 117.4' 115.5'

Carya glabra pignut hickory 140.4' 132.8' 127.7'

Carya cordiformis bitternut hickory 110.1'

Carya ovalis red hickory 82.5'

Juglans cinerea butternut 88.3'

Robinia pseudoacacia black locust 116.4'

Prunus serotina black cherry 95.2'

Diospyros virginiana persimmon 92.0'

Platanus occidentalis sycamore 110.5'

Aesculus flava yellow buckeye 98.5'

Ilex opaca holly 59.9'

Pinus echinata shortleaf pine 113.6'

Pinus rigida pitch pine 120.2' 105.9'

Pinus pungens table mountain pine 97.8' 79.8' 79.7' 70.3'

The big surprises included black oak at 131.9', chestnut oak at 135.2' and white oak at 138.4'. the tulips were much taller then I'd anticipated. I expected red hickory to do well. I forgot to measure one at about 100'. I suspect there are more good reds. The gorge is incredibly productive. There is much more there but it's quite a grind getting around. Rhododendron hells and steep terrain make it a very slow go. There's another branch that I didn't hit at all. It's amazing what you can find in familiar territory that you didn't realize was there.

R5 = 143.08'
R10 = 134.73'
R20 = 120.26'

The R20 will benefit from the red hickory I forgot to measure. I saw no mature white pines at all. They would have been of help in the numbers.
Last edited by bbeduhn on Wed Apr 08, 2015 8:22 am, edited 12 times in total.

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Jess Riddle
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Re: Kitzuma Trail, NC

Post by Jess Riddle » Fri Mar 28, 2014 12:50 pm

Brian,

This trail is on the Blue Ridge Escarpment, just east of Asheville, right? What gorge are you talking about?

The oak heights are quite impressive. I'm not sure what the best we've down on black oak in NC outside of the Smokies is, but 132' should be close.

Jess

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bbeduhn
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Re: Kitsuma Trail, NC

Post by bbeduhn » Fri Mar 28, 2014 1:05 pm

Jess,
It may be a stretch to call it a gorge. Perhaps it's more of a ravine. It is located in McDowell County. The trail starts up in Ridgecrest and goes down to just about Old Fort. There are several other sites in McDowell I plan on hitting but I probably won't make it to those sites before leaf-on this season.

The stream from the ravine does empty into Swannannoa Creek, which forms the Royal Gorge. A Greenway (formerly Old 70), now called The Point Lookout Trail traverses the Royal Gorge. I've noticed a few spots along that trail that merit measuring. It's primarily south facing but has some coves which could harbor some good stuff.
Brian
Last edited by bbeduhn on Thu Apr 02, 2015 7:49 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Kitsuma Trail, NC

Post by bbeduhn » Wed Apr 01, 2015 8:34 am

This is actually across the gorge from Kitsuma, but I'm doing a Rucker for the entire Royal Gorge so I'll put it under the same heading.

Old 70 winds its way up the mountainside from Old Fort to Ridgecrest, partially crisscrossing the railroad, which traverses up the mountain through 7 tunnels and countless curves. Many bodies are buried along the course of the railroad. These are workers' remains from digging the tunnels in the late 19th Century. When Interstate 40 was built, the old road didn't see much use and was eventually closed to traffic. I used to ride and run up the gentle grade after descending the Kitzuma Trail, a rollercoaster of hills and turns. Old 70 has a southern exposure withe exception of two coves. These coves provided the only shade in the summertime over the five mile climb to Ridgecrest. I remembered tall trees along one cove in particular, despite not being into tall trees at the time. The cove has an openness to it that you typically find in old growth forests.

In about 2008, the Old 70 grade had begun crumbling in spots. In had a few small landslides and was becoming entrenched in kudzu in several spots. Logging had taken place on some of the steepest sections right below the road, likely in the 1980's. This allowed the kudzu to really take hold and it still covers several large expanses of the steep slopes. Apparently, there had been a grassroots plan, approved by Old Fort to make Old 70 into a greenway. New black top was laid down over the crumbling roadbed and a couple of years later, The Forest Service negotiated a right-of-way with a private landholder who owns the land on either side of the greenway for the first mile from Ridgecrest to Old Fort. Some gunshots had been fired by the landowner at hikers for "trespassing". There had always been a right-of-way but it may not have been worded properly. I don't know the details.

The road is now known as The Point Lookout Trail. About a mile in is an old overlook, now covered in kudzu, and was the location of an auto overlook and possibly a gas station. There is now a flagpole and the kudzu gets regularly cut on the stairs which lead to a higher overlook. Just beyond this overlook is the shady cove. From what I've found in several spots so far in The Royal Gorge, I expected to find a 150' or two...I was very pleasantly surprised.

The forest above the trail consist mainly of tulip and chestnut oak with red hickory, red oak and black oak. Below the trail, tulips dominate for most of the way. pitch pine pop up here and there. Kudzu dominates in part and on one steep slope, red maple and princess tree dominate. Princess pops up other places as well. Along the southern exposure, tulips reached 120' in not very favorable sites. They started reaching into the 130's after the lookout and below, they reached much greater heights.

After doing some measuring in the cove, in became apparent that these tulips were quite tall, so I sat down and did some measuring. A noise grew and soon a train passed by just 30 yards above me. The numbers started in the 140's and kept growing. The last tree I'd measured hit 169.8'! I tried a couple of different spots to get to 170'. they yielded 169.3' and 169.4'. i went back to my original spot and tweaked my steps and managed to break 170', the first time in McDowell County. Looking next to the 170', it had a twin, but a little bit taller...177.6'!!! I then headed down into the cove. Tulips thoroughly dominated. Only a few other species even made it into the midstory. I likely passed over a few 150's. The entire grove covers 3-4 acres. This is handicapped accessible, I assume a first for a tulip grove. Elevation is 2200', with virtually no undergrowth. Age appears to be in the 70-80 year range. There is no balding on the bark and all trees have strong apical dominance with crowns reaching for the sky. The tallest trees are eastern facing, just a few degrees toward the north.

Liriodendron tulipifera 177.6' 170.4' 164.5' 162.3' 159.4' 158.6' 158.3'
157.7' 156.6' 152.7' 149.7' 149.3' 145.7' 144.9'

Quercus montana 129.2' 128.6'

Quercus velotina 121.3'

Carya ovalis 104.3'

Pinus rigida 99.6'

The next cove, about a mile further down, had a far better mix of species. Rhododendron covered most of the ground. This made finding the bottoms difficult.

Liriodendron tulipifera 152.9' 141.8' 140.9' 138.2'

Platanus occidentalis 139.7' +/- 2' 129.5' 126.8'

Quercus rubra 123.4'

Quercus alba 111.2'

Carya alba 111.5'

Tsuga Canadensis (dead) 125.0'

The Royal Gorge is looking like a true tall tree site. there is much more to explore, including many north facing coves, which appear to harbor some old trees. I could see many large trunks and open understories across the gorge. These are tough to get to but I'll get there next year for sure.

Royal Gorge Rucker

tulip 177.6'
pignut hickory 140.4'
sycamore 139.7'
white oak 138.4'
chestnut oak 135.2'
red oak 134.7'
red maple 132.2'
black oak 131.9'
hemlock (alive) 125.3'
mockernut hickory 122.3'

R10 = 137.70'
R5 = 146.26'
Last edited by bbeduhn on Wed Apr 01, 2015 7:16 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: Kitsuma Trail, NC

Post by bbeduhn » Wed Apr 01, 2015 8:34 am

170's 1.jpg
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Re: Kitsuma Trail, NC

Post by bbeduhn » Wed Apr 01, 2015 8:34 am

170's crowns.jpg
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Re: Kitsuma Trail, NC

Post by bbeduhn » Wed Apr 01, 2015 8:34 am

This is actually across the gorge from Kitsuma, but I'm doing a Rucker for the entire Royal Gorge so I'll put it under the same heading.

Old 70 winds its way up the mountainside from Old Fort to Ridgecrest, partially crisscrossing the railroad, which traverses up the mountain through 7 tunnels and countless curves. Many bodies are buried along the course of the railroad. These are workers' remains from digging the tunnels in the late 19th Century. When Interstate 40 was built, the old road didn't see much use and was eventually closed to traffic. I used to ride and run up the gentle grade after descending the Kitzuma Trail, a rollercoaster of hills and turns. Old 70 has a southern exposure withe exception of two coves. These coves provided the only shade in the summertime over the five mile climb to Ridgecrest. I remembered tall trees along one cove in particular, despite not being into tall trees at the time. The cove has an openness to it that you typically find in old growth forests.

In about 2008, the Old 70 grade had begun crumbling in spots. In had a few small landslides and was becoming entrenched in kudzu in several spots. Logging had taken place on some of the steepest sections right below the road, likely in the 1980's. This allowed the kudzu to really take hold and it still covers several large expanses of the steep slopes. Apparently, there had been a grassroots plan, approved by Old Fort to make Old 70 into a greenway. New black top was laid down over the crumbling roadbed and a couple of years later, The Forest Service negotiated a right-of-way with a private landholder who owns the land on either side of the greenway for the first mile from Ridgecrest to Old Fort. Some gunshots had been fired by the landowner at hikers for "trespassing". There had always been a right-of-way but it may not have been worded properly. I don't know the details.

The road is now known as The Point Lookout Trail. About a mile in is an old overlook, now covered in kudzu, and was the location of an auto overlook and possibly a gas station. There is now a flagpole and the kudzu gets regularly cut on the stairs which lead to a higher overlook. Just beyond this overlook is the shady cove. From what I've found in several spots so far in The Royal Gorge, I expected to find a 150' or two...I was very pleasantly surprised.

The forest above the trail consist mainly of tulip and chestnut oak with red hickory, red oak and black oak. Below the trail, tulips dominate for most of the way. Pitch pine pop up here and there. Kudzu dominates in part and on one steep slope, red maple and princess tree dominate. Princess pops up other places as well. Along the southern exposure, tulips reached 120' in not very favorable sites. They started reaching into the 130's after the lookout and below, they reached much greater heights.

After doing some measuring in the cove, it became apparent that these tulips were quite tall, so I sat down and did some measuring. A noise grew and soon a train passed by just 30 yards above me. The numbers started in the 140's and kept growing. The last tree I'd measured hit 169.8'! I tried a couple of different spots to get to 170'. They yielded 169.3' and 169.4'. i went back to my original spot and tweaked my steps and managed to break 170', the first time in McDowell County. Looking next to the 170', it had a twin, but a little bit taller...177.6'!!! I then headed down into the cove. Tulips thoroughly dominated. Only a few other species even made it into the midstory. I likely passed over a few 150's. The entire grove covers 3-4 acres. This is handicapped accessible, I assume a first for a super tall tulip grove. Elevation is 2200', with virtually no undergrowth. Age appears to be in the 70-80 year range. There is no balding on the bark and all trees have strong apical dominance with crowns reaching for the sky. The tallest trees are eastern facing, just a few degrees toward the north.

Liriodendron tulipifera 177.6' 170.4' 164.5' 162.3' 159.4' 158.6' 158.3'
157.7' 156.6' 152.7' 149.7' 149.3' 145.7' 144.9'

Quercus montana 129.2' 128.6'

Quercus velotina 121.3'

Carya ovalis 104.3'

Pinus rigida 99.6'

The next cove, about a mile further down, had a far better mix of species. Rhododendron covered most of the ground. This made finding the bottoms difficult.

Liriodendron tulipifera 152.9' 141.8' 140.9' 138.2'

Platanus occidentalis 139.7' +/- 2' 129.5' 126.8'

Quercus rubra 123.4'

Quercus alba 111.2'

Carya alba 111.5'

Tsuga Canadensis (dead) 125.0'

The Royal Gorge is looking like a true tall tree site. there is much more to explore, including many north facing coves, which appear to harbor some old trees. I could see many large trunks and open understories across the gorge. These are tough to get to but I'll get there next year for sure.

Royal Gorge Rucker

tulip 177.6'
pignut hickory 140.4'
sycamore 139.7'
white oak 138.4'
chestnut oak 135.2'
red oak 134.7'
red maple 123.4'
black oak 131.9'
hemlock (alive) 125.3'
mockernut hickory 122.3'

R10 = 136.80'
R5 = 146.26'
170's
170's
170's
170's
170's crowns
170's crowns
Last edited by bbeduhn on Wed Apr 08, 2015 8:13 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Royal Gorge, Kitsuma Trail, Pisgah Nat'l Forest, NC

Post by bbeduhn » Wed Apr 01, 2015 1:57 pm

It turns out that just a couple of hours after I left the trail, a huge brush fire started and closed down the entire trail system. At this point, 500+ acres have burned. It appears that Rattlesnake and Copperhead peaks are among the areas consumed by flames. these are just off I-40 in Ridgecrest.

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dbhguru
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Re: Royal Gorge, Kitsuma Trail, Pisgah Nat'l Forest, NC

Post by dbhguru » Wed Apr 01, 2015 6:36 pm

Brian,

Great job! I wonder if it would be possible to put together a list of all sites we know of with tulip trees reaching to 170 feet or more. I think each Ent who has broken the 170 number would have to dig back into their records and identify their sites. Our data is hopelessly scattered, but Dr. Neil Pederson is still interested in a study of the species.

Bob
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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dbhguru
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Re: Royal Gorge, Kitsuma Trail, Pisgah Nat'l Forest, NC

Post by dbhguru » Wed Apr 01, 2015 6:36 pm

Brian,

Great job! I wonder if it would be possible to put together a list of all sites we know of with tulip trees reaching to 170 feet or more. I think each Ent who has broken the 170 number would have to dig back into their records and identify their sites. Our data is hopelessly scattered, but Dr. Neil Pederson is still interested in a study of the species.

Bob
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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