Hearts Content Scenic Area Aug. 21, 2014

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Hearts Content Scenic Area Aug. 21, 2014

Post by tomhoward » Sun Aug 31, 2014 1:52 pm


After rain and thunder in the evening of Aug. 20 in Clarion, PA and more rain in the night, the morning of Aug. 21 began with light rain, but, despite a forecast of thunderstorms, the rain ended, and the day became sunny and not too warm, just like Aug. 20, a perfect day for exploring a spectacular old growth forest. On Aug. 21, Jack and I headed north from the delightful town of Clarion (which has a small square with memorials to the Civil War and World War II with some nice trees, including 2 big healthy American Elms) toward Allegheny National Forest. We took US 322 out of Clarion, over the Clarion River, which is still as beautiful as at Cook Forest, winding through hills covered with forest. The forest near Clarion is mostly 2nd growth Red Oak, and White Pines became more and more frequent as we headed toward Allegheny NF. We took US 322 to PA 66, and PA 66 north to the lovely Blue Jay Creek Rd., following the same route as the previous day to PA 666 and Sheffield. The whole area is a lot like mid-coast Maine, with Red Oak and White Pine as dominant trees, and the area has the fresh piney fragrance that we have always identified with Maine. In Sheffield, we took a bridge across Tionesta Creek, following a sign that said something like “Hearts Content 13 miles”; we left the town quickly, and found ourselves on a narrow but paved road winding through a dense forest with many Oaks and Pines (and some Devil’s Club along the roadsides); this road is PA Route 2002. When we got to Hearts Content, the site at first did not look spectacular, a field with some Apple trees, with 2nd growth forest all around; the gnats bothered us so much that we had to put some Cutter insect repellent on. We would not be much bothered by insects when we got into the woods.

It looks like it has been some years since the NTS have reported about Hearts Content.

So we entered the famous Hearts Content forest, but it looked like low 2nd growth. There were no really big trees at the start of the trail, and scarcely any White Pines. We saw mostly small Hemlock, Beech, Red Maple, Black Cherry, and possibly Devil’s Club, and some big snags. We came to a fence to keep deer out, and in that fence there was a great deal more undergrowth, many young Beech and Hemlock trees. And we began to see tall White Pines soaring above the canopy. We had stepped into old growth. I measured one big White Pine at 32.2” dbh – there would be many, many much bigger than that ahead. I measured an old twisted sinuous White Oak at 23” dbh, not a huge tree, but one that looked really old. We would see little or any more White Oak. Jack and I spent over 3 hours exploring this fantastically spectacular old growth forest that seemed much larger than 20 or 26 acres or so. Jack took many pictures of the small stuff on the forest floor, the great variety of Fungi, small plants, Indian Pipes, and so forth, and near some big trees we saw a Red Eft.

I counted 245 rings on a 10” radius cross-section of a Hemlock log. In clear areas where trees had fallen, some young White Pines were coming up. Jack spotted a seedling Cucumber Magnolia. I tried to measure a tall White Pine, couldn’t get a basal shot, and the height to part of the top above eye level was about 134 ft., but this tree is far higher than that, at least 145 ft., and it would turn out to be not even one of the really tall ones. By now the towering White Pines were all around us, raising their ancient battered crowns high, high above enormous and much lower (but still at least 110 foot tall) Hemlocks and other trees. All around us was a dense growth of sky piercing cathedral like White Pine, and we could hear the magical sound of gentle breezes soughing through aged Pine crowns high over our heads.

We went off trail a little bit to look at a truly gigantic White Pine, which I measured at 49.9” dbh. I think this is the biggest tree we would see at Hearts Content. This could be the tree that was supposed to replace the Seneca Pine at Cook Forest as the PA State Champion, according to Dale Luthringer’s video presentation of Apr. 2012. This Hearts Content Pine was leaning dangerously, and although still holding a healthy crown high up, was getting ready to fall; there was a big fresh crack widening on the upward side of the trunk. This great Pine may have already fallen as of this date (Aug. 31, 2014). In the path of this tree, I measured a large Cucumber Magnolia (the largest of this species we would see at Hearts Content) to a height of at least 82.3 ft. – the top was not visible, and the tree is (or was, considering what was about to fall on it) taller.

We saw many ancient shaggy, sinuous Red Maples, possibly the best Red Maples I’ve ever seen. I measured one of the big Red Maples to at least 119 ft. tall (could not get basal shot), at least as tall or taller than the tallest Red Maple in NY State. This Red Maple is about 3 ft. dbh, and rises out of dense brush. I measured a typical big Hemlock at 40.6” dbh – there are many Hemlocks much larger. Throughout Hearts Content, young Hemlocks and Beeches form a low canopy out of which giants soar. We saw many towering White Pine snags, but most of the old White Pines were still healthy.

I measured the following typical Hemlock on a lower part of the trail next to a towering snag: 116.2 ft. tall

Then I measured this incredible White Pine from the lower part of the trail:
Height 159.2 ft. – this tree is at least this tall, as I don’t believe I saw the highest part of the crown – this great Pine is easily over 160 ft. tall.

We crossed a bridge over a little stream (which I believe is named Tom’s Run, just like in Cook Forest), and mist hung magically in the humid sunlit air over the stream. We saw a big mossy rock that looked carved, like the remains of some lost unknown ancient civilization.

I counted 264 rings on the 12.5” radius cross-section of a Hemlock log freshly fallen across the trail. This tree was easily well over 300 years, as this cross-section was counted 75 ft. above the tree’s base. This was incredibly awesome old growth. While I was counting these rings, we heard a loud crash, the sound of a great tree falling to the ground, disturbing the quiet of the stream that gently trickled over rocks.

Hearts Content has wondrous Pine-Hemlock fragrance, the freshest, purest old growth air I’ve ever breathed in the East.

A small Beech tree shares a root with an enormous towering White Pine, the Beech tree climbing part way up the Pine like a vine.

I measured the following big double-trunked Black Cherry:
Height 116.9 ft.

White Ash:
Height 117.16 ft.

White Pine (height above eye level to part of crown, couldn’t get basal shot) – 143.53 ft.+, tree over 150 ft. tall.

White Pine (height above eye level, couldn’t get basal shot) – 145.4 ft.+, tree over 150 ft. tall.

We heard birds singing in the high breezy tops of the White Pines, and we heard a Red Squirrel.

White Ash (height above eye level, couldn’t get basal shot) – 111 ft., tree at least 115 ft. tall.

We saw a big lichen-covered Red Oak next to a smaller Cucumber Magnolia.

Next was a giant Red Maple, a shaggy monster with a crown composed of jagged prongs with dead tips; height above eye level 108.3 ft., couldn’t get basal shot, tree at least 115 ft. tall.

We saw a giant White Pine over 130 ft. tall, with a big burl, and then an old Black Birch.

We were back near the entrance, back to the deer fence, and we saw many young Cucumber Magnolias near the deer fence.

We left Hearts Content among some big open-grown Red Oaks.

In both Cook Forest and Hearts Content, the lofty old White Pines have battered windswept crowns. Some parts of both Cook Forest and Hearts Content are remarkably dense, with several immensely tall White Pine columns rising high into the same small plot of sky, creating a feeling of being in a great temple, a true Forest Cathedral. The trees are larger (much larger) than in the North Syracuse Cemetery Oak Grove, but the large tree density of these Pine forests does not surpass the density of the deep heart of the Big North Syracuse Oaks of my childhood.

In both Cook Forest and Hearts Content, there is a great deal of coarse woody debris from fallen trees, but the high super canopies of both sites are ruled by healthy White Pines.

The rugged wind-battered White Pine crowns of Cook Forest and Hearts Content are like islands in the sky.

We reluctantly left Hearts Content, and returned to Clarion by the same beautiful forest and hill route by which we came.

Clarion is in lovely hill and forest country, and just after dark, Jack and I walked by the edge of a patch of young 2nd growth woods, and saw many Fireflies blinking on and off in the fields and in the darkening recesses of the woods. We haven’t seen Fireflies in many years; brightly lit, polluted North Syracuse has them no more, and they can’t be seen where my brother lives in Toronto.

The next day, Aug. 22, began with light rain and fog, which gave the forested hills a mysterious aspect. Jack and I left Clarion on US 322, and went north to US 62 by PA 66 and PA 36. We took US 62 north along the Allegheny River, and along the edge of Allegheny National Forest to Warren, PA. We stopped at the Tidioute Overlook of Allegheny National Forest, a steep drive through 2nd growth forest. The views of the Allegheny River, the small town of Tidioute, and forested hills beyond were spectacular. We looked down on at least one densely forested island in the Allegheny River, and even from this distance, we could see the wide crowns of big Sycamores. This island may be part of the NTS report on the Allegheny River islands that Ed Frank posted on the Bulletin Board. The forest at Tidioute Overlook has a lot of Red Oak, Red Maple, some White Pine, Hemlock, Black Cherry, Cucumber Magnolia.

We continued north on US 62 past Warren, PA, and into NY State. We had lunch at the Olympia Restaurant in Gowanda, NY, the gateway to Zoar Valley – it was at this restaurant that the big NTS group, the “Tally in the Valley” (which included Bob Leverett, Bruce Kershner, Tom Diggins, Matt Largess, Lou Sebesta, Robert Henry, myself, and others) ate a big breakfast on June 28, 2003, before plunging into the depths of Zoar Valley. Jack and I continued on US 62, and we stopped to look at a huge Sycamore by the busy street in Gowanda. The tree is easily 4 ft. dbh or more, and despite being open-grown, I measured a height of 122.7 ft.

We took US 62 north to Buffalo, and crossed into Canada over the Peace Bridge at Fort Erie. Our next tree stop was a an open stand of tall White Pines in Grimsby, ON, which Bruce Kershner called the Grimsby School Grove in his Niagara Peninsula Survey; this is the subject of the next report.

Here are some pictures Jack took.

Tom Howard
Old White Oak 23" dbh
Old White Oak 23" dbh
Tom Howard and Big Trees
Tom Howard and Big Trees
Towering White Pine
Towering White Pine
Red Eft
Red Eft
Mist and fallen log
Mist and fallen log
Fungi with Canadian Quarter for scale
Fungi with Canadian Quarter for scale
small plant
small plant
White Pine and Beech
White Pine and Beech
Tidioute Overlook Aug. 22
Tidioute Overlook Aug. 22

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Re: Hearts Content Scenic Area Aug. 21, 2014

Post by ElijahW » Sat Jun 15, 2019 7:45 pm

Tom, NTS,

On May 26th, I spent a couple hours checking out the old growth portion of Hearts Content. This was my first visit to the legendary western PA forest, and it was well worth the long drive from Syracuse.

You’ll see from my tally below that my focus was the mighty White Pines. I did measure one Hemlock, but no hardwoods. I think with some looking, both Black Cherry and Red Maple would exceed 120’, but not by much.

The overall feel of walking through Hearts Content was similar to a stroll through the 1675 Grove in Paul Smiths, NY. Both sites are islands of ancient White Pines surrounded by younger, sometimes scrubby forest, and the canopies of both are head and shoulders above everything else around. The Hearts Content pines average about ten feet taller than the Paul Smiths trees, but the Paul Smiths trees are consistently bigger around.

I did not find the 167’ Pine reported on in the past, and I think it may have fallen down. Though the core of Hearts Content is dominated by White Pines, many have blown down and/or succumbed to old age, and the forest floor is littered with giant decaying woody skeletons. Here’s what I did find:

Eastern White Pine

164.9’ x 11.40’
162.3’ x 10.85’
161.8’ x 10.90’
160.8’ x 10.48’
160.0’ x 10.65’

Eastern Hemlock

137.5’ x 11.09’

"There is nothing in the world to equal the forest as nature made it. The finest formal forest, the most magnificent artificially grown woods, cannot compare with the grandeur of primeval woodland." Bob Marshall, Recreational Limitations to Silviculture in the Adirondacks

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