Calloway Gap Hemlocks

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#1)  Calloway Gap Hemlocks

Postby Ashe County » Sun Dec 28, 2014 4:27 pm

I have driven past this small stand of mostly Hemlock for years and lo and behold I finally scrambled up the slope to measure how big around they actually are:    the largest is 11" 5" in circumference and the second is 10' 6""

Not champion size I know but the trees are still relatively healthy.  A vacation homeowner just below them may have treated them along with quite a few others on his property of varying size classes as they are the healthiest hemlock trees around that I know of.   A pretty little cove reminicent of an era now gone.  I wonder how many areas like this are left?  Is there anywhere in the Smokies I could go and see a successfully saved old growth Hemlock forest?


A couple more big trees further up towards the ridgeline:   Tulip Poplar with girth of 10' 7",  and a Northern Red Oak at 11' 7""   Then I walked out on a section of MST that I hadn't been on and saw a fallen red oak smaller than that one cut for trail passage - didn't count each ring but over 200 I'm sure.  Also a fallen white pine unusual in size for this area where most trees along the Blue Ridge Parkway don't look much older than it is, about 80 years at this point, and not looking like they are going to get much older due to the hammering they get from wind and ice on the ridgeline.  I left the tape in the truck, but shoulds have taken it along.

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#2)  Re: Calloway Gap Hemlocks

Postby Will Blozan » Mon Dec 29, 2014 1:07 pm

Some of the finest treated groves in the Smokies are in the Cosby area. Gabes Mtn Trail is good with Bearneck Branch being among the finest stands. This district was hit last by HWA and success was high with treatments. Hoglen Branch in Cataloochee (NC) is really awesome- one of the few successes in the valley. Trees up to 15'5" girth in there. No trail but worth the short bushwhack.

Will

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#3)  Re: Calloway Gap Hemlocks

Postby Ashe County » Mon Dec 29, 2014 3:20 pm

thanks Will. Ranger Dan sent me a msg. and also mentioned Gabes Mt.   Is Holgen Branch off of a named trail in Cataloochie?   I haven't been there since before the Hemlock catastrophe, but the photos look like some nearly pure stands were wiped out.  About time I checked out those Elk too.  Any observations on which tree species are reseeding prime hemlock habitat like that?  or are two decades of blackberry thicket in store...
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#4)  Re: Calloway Gap Hemlocks

Postby jamesrobertsmith » Mon Dec 29, 2014 6:59 pm

I still go to Cataloochee mainly to see the elk, but I get heartsick when I see all of the dead hemlocks.
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#5)  Re: Calloway Gap Hemlocks

Postby Ashe County » Mon Dec 29, 2014 8:24 pm

It is shocking no doubt, but I find myself pleased to see a big tree, living or dead, instead of the typical scrubby and overstocked stands of stick timber that passes for forest around here.  Even better if has a hole in it where I can imagine that an owl or pileated woodpecker lives.  I wonder how long they will stand?  Not as long as the chestnuts did I think.
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#6)  Re: Calloway Gap Hemlocks

Postby Ranger Dan » Tue Dec 30, 2014 10:26 am

In the Smokies where I've been in dead hemlock stands, there is some variation in which species are taking over. The (almost) thornless blackberry species here are in some places thriving and making bush whacking even more difficult. Rhododendron could hardly be more dense in many places, as anyone who has been here must know, but I think that any fears of former hemlock groves becoming "rhododendron deserts" can be laid to rest. In almost any forest there are multitudes of suppressed understory trees and dormant tree seeds waiting for canopy gaps to open.

I was on the Snake Den Mtn. Trail yesterday, where large areas of hemlock have dropped most of their limbs, but are still standing. (Hemlocks deteriorate rapidly. The wood is nowhere near as rot-resistant as chestnut. Many areas where hemlocks have been dead for several years now have no snags standing.) Suppressed black and yellow birch and silverbell saplings have rocketed 25 ft of growth in a few years. Sugar maple is a shade tolerant species already present in abundance in this particular stand, and as in many places, is poised to become the dominant, climax species if stable conditions persist. Tuliptree often requires ground disturbance for seed germination, but here some have emerged from duff and have grown to 20 ft or so already. Understory species already present such as hobblebush, dogwoods, and striped maple are also having growth surges. I did not notice any hemlock seedling regeneration at all...as though the adelgids had killed every last one. This particular stand is like many in the Southern Appalachians...a diverse mixture of several canopy species, all deciduous with the exception of white pine in some areas.

In nearly-pure hemlock stands, primarily I see birch taking over. Birches here become large, ancient, very beautiful canopy trees. There are extensive forest stands dominated by yellow and black birch, much of it never logged, where for some reason hemlocks are not present. Raven Fork upstream from the trail is an example...there are miles of streamside forest with ancient, sculpted birches overhanging the stream, but very few hemlocks. I think we will see many nearly-pure hemlock stands become forest like this. Like hemlock, these birch species are shade tolerant and often establish themselves on nurse logs and stumps. They are present even under rhododendron brush and are emerging into the canopy.

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#7)  Re: Calloway Gap Hemlocks

Postby Will Blozan » Tue Dec 30, 2014 10:48 am

Well said Ranger Dan! Striped maple is a locally abundant species as well. I have seen a surge of devil's walkingstick as well in some areas.

Ashe- Hoglen Branch is adjacent to the short trail to a cemetery at the intersection of the paved and dirt roads in Cataloochee as entered from I40. It is also adjacent (north) to the road bed that was supposed to go to I40 at that same intersection. Virtually all of the rest of 'Loochee is wiped out, sadly.
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