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Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP and Billings Park

Posted: Sat Feb 23, 2019 9:07 pm
by JHarkness
Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, located in Woodstock, Vermont, is the only park in the NPS that has an active forest management program (it is managed for historic and ecological purposes, not resource extraction) they are also the smallest national park in the United States. George Perkins Marsh's book, Man and Nature was the inspiration for Frederick Billings, a Vermonter turned rich railroader in the 1870s, to acquire the Marsh family farm in Woodstock and begin planting trees on the barren hills and establish a sustainably managed forest, his daughters, and later Laurence and Mary Rockefeller, carried on these traditions, it was the Rockefellers that donated the park to the National Park Service. Many of the original plantations dating to the 1880s still exist and continue to be managed sustainably to this day, they feature a number of exotics such as Norway spruce, European larch and scots pine but also some natives such as red pine, white pine and sugar maple.

Today I attended a hemlock woolly adelgid/elongate hemlock scale monitoring workshop at the park and spent time trying to track down the tallest white pines at the site, and oh yes, I found some surprises. I will be returning again in late winter or early spring to continue measurements, particularly focusing on hemlocks and hardwoods, and also volume measurements, so consider this part one, the hunt for tall white pines. Here is a summary of what I found today.

Pinus strobus
143.5' / 11' 6"
131.4' / 11' 1"
136.5' / 11' 8"
147.9' / 11' 4"
150.6' / 8' 5" *Vermont height record

Castanea dentata
92.3' / 4' 11" *Vermont height record

I climbed up a small hill behind the Mansion and associated gardens in search of big pines, one weather-beaten pine perched on the top of the hill caught my eye. I tapewrapped the tree and search for a view to the top of the crown. The name Raggedy Old Pine came to mind and stuck, it seems fitting for this tree.
Raggedy Old Pine
Height: 143.5'
Circumference: 11' 6"
Lat/Lon: 43.6312/-72.5188

The Raggedy Old Pine reaches quite an impressive height despite sitting at the highest point in the immediate area, it is, as far as I could tell, the tallest tree on the hill. Though many nearby trees break 130', far too many to measure in one day. Tough one stout pine on the edge of a clearing is quite an imposing site, even if not super tall or large.
Stout Pine
Height 131.4'
Circumference: 11' 1"
Lat/Lon: 43.6315/-72.5189

Though perhaps most imposing of the trees on this small hill is a single trunk pine that ascends arrow straight, then forks into two massive leaders.
Base of the Forked Pine
Base of the Forked Pine
The Forked Pine in full view
The Forked Pine in full view
Forked Pine
Height: 136.5'
Circumference: 11' 8"
Lat/Lon: 43.6313/-72.5202

Across the pasture/lumber yard from the Forked Pine is another pine, the Vermont height champion measured by Bob Leverett in 2012 at 150.5', unfortunately this tree has become infected with blister rust and is going fast, it has already lost quite a lot of its crown, I measured it during the summer and couldn't break 148' on it, it is no less an impressive tree at 13' 3" in circumference. I headed past this tree and down Cemetery Road following two leads. Prior to today's visit, I checked the park's trail map to see which planted stands were the oldest, I then cross-referenced that with Google Earth imagery, trying to pick out groves in sheltered locations with, it so happened that one stand fit the bill perfectly and I had high hopes for it.

The second lead was about the park's largest American chestnut, which the park's Natural Resource Manager, Kyle Jones, had informed me of in the summer, I couldn't find it then but figured I would be able to spot it easily with the leaves off, and it did not disappoint.
American Chestnut
Height: 92.3' *Vermont height record
Circumference: 4' 11"
Lat/Lon: 43.6301/-72.5233

At 92.3' tall, the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller chestnut is the tallest of its kind known in the state of Vermont, and it is quite sight to behold. It is well known among the park staff, and has been producing seeds for years, though supposedly it is sterile as there are no other known flowering chestnut nearby. Unfortunately, the tree is now showing signs of blight, a small canker is now present on one side of the trunk, but I have hope as the canker is relatively small and does not look new, apparently several others chestnuts at the site have been known to survive the blight, apparently the weather is cold and dry enough to allow for mortality of the blight fungus. Regardless of the canker, the tree can't be denied its superlative status, canopy dominance, seed production and perhaps having attained a height similar to those of pre-blight chestnut in the area. Here are some more photos of the tree.
After leaving the chestnut, I continued down the trail, leaving the National Park and entering the town-owned Billings Park, part of the farm which was sold off to be preserved in the early 1900s, eventually coming to the stand of white pines I was looking for. Situated at the base of Mount Tom, they are well protected and plenty of ground water is present. The stand was also thinned heavily early on allowing for much more growing room, and the thinning seems to have paid off. Countless pines top 140, I measured around a dozen, they may be several 150-footers, and there is even potential for a 160-footer if it is well enough protected. Two conspicuous white pines along the trail stood out, I couldn't hit the taller of the two at first, but found an optimal top to base view of its neighbor, which measured 147.9' tall by 11' 4" in circumference, quite a tree! I was hoping to find a tree taller than the 13' / 150.5' tree that was in good condition, and I thought that this would be it. The tree is not nearly as substantial as its neighbor, and without looking up into the canopy, one would likely never notice it. I've decided to name this tree the Frederick Billings Pine, it seems only fitting. Meet Mr. Billings' Pine, the tallest known tree in the state of Vermont.
Billings Pine tapewrapped on left, tree on right is the 147.9' / 11' 4" tree
Billings Pine tapewrapped on left, tree on right is the 147.9' / 11' 4" tree
Frederick Billings Pine
Height: 150.6' *Vermont height record
Circumference: 8' 5"
Lat/Lon: 43.6279/-72.5251

I look forward to returning to the National Park as well as Billings Park to continue tree measurement,
Joshua Harkness

Re: Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP and Billings Park

Posted: Sun Feb 24, 2019 11:34 am
by Lucas
Good finds. Congrats.

There are several posts on this site about the park. Are you remeasuring trees?

The chestnut info looks new. Are these wild or planted?

Were the C dentata unpublicized to keep blight packing tourists out?

Re: Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP and Billings Park

Posted: Sun Feb 24, 2019 5:07 pm
by dbhguru

Good work. I hope to get back up there this summer. It is a much underrated site.


Re: Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP and Billings Park

Posted: Sun Feb 24, 2019 6:28 pm
by Don
There are a number of NPS Parks that have/had forest management. Sequoia-Kings NP and Grand Canyon NP (I was a Restoration Forester in support of the wildfire mgmt. office of the Fire and Aviation Branch, until retirement in 2007) are both examples of Parks that interweave their wildfire management with their management of their forest ecosystems. Parks with fire-adapted forest ecosystems see the two as inseparable. During my time pursuing my MS Forestry degree at UMASS Amherst, Dr. William A. Patterson, as a forest ecologist, saw to it that forestry students were actively involved in wildfire management in an ecosystem context.

Re: Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP and Billings Park

Posted: Sun Feb 24, 2019 7:51 pm
by JHarkness

The Raggedy Old Pine, Stout Pine and Forked Pine may well be remeasurements, Bob would hopefully be able to say whether they are any that he measured previously. The only intentional remeasurement was the former state height champion, which I measured last summer. The American chestnut is a wild tree, there is a substantial natural population of them at the site, some have been planted on the grounds as well and their interactions with chestnut blight studied, a surprising number of them have developed partial cankers but recover with minimal decline. The likely cause is climate, while nowhere near the species northern range limit, Woodstock is getting somewhat near the climatic limits of the species, but most of the chestnuts grow in low-lying damp areas, and also in boulder fields with an abundance of springs and small mountain streams, so the microclimate they grow in likely is near their limit, and hopefully pushing the limits of the blight.


I wasn't aware any other National Parks were actively managed, I had been told by many NPS employees that MBR was the one and only one. But perhaps they meant it is the only one that is focused on forest management. I believe the parks you mentioned manage for secondary purposes, such as fire control, wildlife management, etc., where on the other hand, MBR exists to preserve the historical, cultural and ecological significance of this managed forest and teach the public on sustainable forestry. Please comment if that is not the case and there are other National Parks that exist for similar purposes.


Re: Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP and Billings Park

Posted: Sun Feb 24, 2019 11:03 pm
by Don
For those Parks with fire-adapted forested ecosystems (like Sequoia-Kings, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and others), it is more accurate perhaps to view them in the context of ecosystem management, which is at the least the synergistic sum of the myriad parts. There are a few National Parks that have sold timber. But none I know of that sold timber for profit, first and foremost. May all of our Parks be ecologically 'managed'. I believe they are...although I have only been employed by a handful.
MBRHNP has a commendable focus and intent in it's advocacy and practice of proper 'forest management'.

Re: Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP and Billings Park

Posted: Wed Aug 14, 2019 4:16 pm
by JHarkness

I failed to report on a visit I made to the park in September of 2018. I did not bring a tripod and the in-leaf canopy made hitting the true tops of many of these trees very difficult. So please consider these height numbers on the low side. The white pines and Norway spruce may be the stars of the show, they certainly are the two tallest species, at least, but they are far from alone, this forest is dominated by huge hemlocks in pristine condition, some of which are old growth (the park having ring counted one specimen to over 400 years) and old gnarly sugar maples, the latter of which I have yet to measure. I hope to return to the park this fall or winter and take more precise measurements of the natural forest and some of the other plantation species. I think hemlock, sugar maple, white ash, and red oak have the greatest potential, and they all reach respectable size, I believe white ash tops 130', and sugar maple and red oak may break 120', I also believe that taller and larger hemlocks are around. I have hardly scratched the surface.

White Pine

141' / 11' 1"
149' / 13' 3" (declining)

84.5' / 7' 2"
89' / 9' 10"
98' NLT
104' / 10' 6"

Northern Red Oak
13' 0" - Stout tree on steep slope, located in Billings Park.

Summer Pasture Sugar Maples
Summer Pasture Sugar Maples
The two largest hemlocks, the closer one is a snag, having snapped off at around 40' and died several years prior.
The two largest hemlocks, the closer one is a snag, having snapped off at around 40' and died several years prior.
Another large hemlock.
Another large hemlock.
Tall pines and Norway spruces, what I believe to be the tallest hemlocks and sugar maples at the site can be seen below the pines, but they haven't been measured.
Tall pines and Norway spruces, what I believe to be the tallest hemlocks and sugar maples at the site can be seen below the pines, but they haven't been measured.

Re: Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP and Billings Park

Posted: Sat Aug 17, 2019 3:41 pm
by dbhguru

You’ve given me new hope for Vermont. Great reports.


Re: Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP and Billings Park

Posted: Wed Aug 28, 2019 7:58 am
by bbeduhn
Excellent work on documenting Marsh-Billings! Keep on working on it. Most sites cannot be evaluated in just one visit. We can witness an evolution of an understanding of a site over time. Okay, enough waxing philosophically.