West Fork Chattooga River Pines

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#1)  West Fork Chattooga River Pines

Postby Jess Riddle » Thu Feb 18, 2016 10:51 pm

Nts,

Three states may claim parts of the Chattooga River, but the watershed really belongs to the conifers.  The view from any overlook reveals a sea of white pine.  Look closer and oaks are similarly abundant, but there are also table mountain pines, normally a scarce species, clinging to the high rocky ridges.  Lower down, shortleaf pine thrives and pitch pine is scattered throughout.

Conifers are not simply abundant; they really like it in the Chattooga.  While the Smokies hog most of the height records for montane species, the Chattooga conifers can go toe-to-toe with the Smokies.  The hemlock height and volume records have bounced back and forth between the Smokies and the Chattooga.  The pitch pine height record has gone from the Smokies to the Chattooga.  Shortleaf pine from the Chattooga to the Smokies.  The Virginia pine height record somehow escaped from the Chattooga to a nearby area of South Carolina, but the table mountain pine record remains in the Chattooga.

The watershed is less hospitable to hardwoods.  While there are a few stands with significant individuals, the Chattooga is not the place to see north facing coves with towering trees and an abundance of showy herbs.  It is mostly white pine that lights up the LiDAR canopy height maps.  So when aerial photographs revealed a cluster of high hits in a south facing cove to be hardwoods, it seemed doubly odd.  A friend and I investigated, and found a stand of young, vigorous tuliptrees.  They were consistently over 140’ tall with a few over 150’ making this one of the tallest hardwood stands in the watershed.  However, the tall oaks and hickories that I had hoped would be amongst them were largely absent.  My friend wanted to take a different route out, which is when things really got interesting and the Chattooga once again showed its true colors.

Where the typically steep descent down to the West Fork of the Chattooga took a break, we found ourselves in the midst of the finest shortleaf pine stand I have ever seen.  Hardwoods dominated the short, steep, north facing slope on one side of the cove, but towering shortleafs covered the gentle south facing slope on the other side.  Tuliptrees, white oak, and a few white pine grew amongst them, but the shortleafs had simply outgrown the tuliptrees.  However, the most impressive tree in the stand may be a pitch pine that doesn’t branch for over 90’.

               
                       
WestForkChattoogaMeasurements.JPG
                                               
WestForkChattoogaMeasurements.JPG (39.24 KiB) Viewed 650 times
               
               

               
                       
DSCN2143.JPG
                       
6’5” cbh x 141.5’ tall shortleaf pine
               
               

               
                       
DSCN2145.JPG
                       
7’0” cbh x 133.6’ tall shortleaf pine
               
               

The site now contains the four tallest known shortleaf pines in Georgia, and the second, third, and forth tallest NTS has recorded anywhere.  The two largest shortleafs should also qualify as state co-champions once spreads are measured.  The pitch pine is the tallest on record by four feet.

               
                       
DSCN2147.JPG
                       
New height record pitch pine, 7’4” cbh x 146.4’ tall
               
               

               
                       
DSCN2149.JPG
                       
New height record pitch pine, 7’4” cbh x 146.4’ tall
               
               

Jess

For this message the author Jess Riddle has received Likes - 9:
Bart Bouricius, bbeduhn, ElijahW, Erik Danielsen, Larry Tucei, Matt Markworth, tsharp, Tyler, Will Blozan
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#2)  Re: West Fork Chattooga River Pines

Postby wisconsitom » Fri Feb 19, 2016 11:50 am

Sounds like an amazing tract.  Thanks for sharing.
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#3)  Re: West Fork Chattooga River Pines

Postby Larry Tucei » Fri Feb 19, 2016 1:03 pm

Jess-  Wow! Congrats on the tall Pitch Pine and the Shortleaf heights are off the scale.  I'v seen none that come close to that height in Ms. 166' White Pine is impressive also. Larry
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#4)  Re: West Fork Chattooga River Pines

Postby Lucas » Fri Feb 19, 2016 2:52 pm

Wow! Congrats on the tall Pitch Pine and the Shortleaf heights are off the scale.

2X
We travel the Milky way together, trees and men. - John Muir
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#5)  Re: West Fork Chattooga River Pines

Postby ElijahW » Sat Feb 20, 2016 10:19 am

Jess,

Very cool.  Up here, a 100' pitch pine is exceptional, and eastern NY is the only part of the state I'm aware of that they might reach that height (the lower Hudson Valley is also a possibility).  The only southern hard pine I've seen of any substantial height is loblolly, but I've never been to most of the places you have, especially in GA.  Would you consider this location old growth?  

Thanks for sharing,

Elijah
"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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#6)  Re: West Fork Chattooga River Pines

Postby Will Blozan » Sat Feb 20, 2016 3:38 pm

Jess,

Insane! Another case of Pinus envy.

Will
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#7)  Re: West Fork Chattooga River Pines

Postby bbeduhn » Fri Feb 17, 2017 5:28 pm

I totally missed this post last year. I'd been searching for that elusive 145'+ pitch pine and had plans on hitting the West Fork but haven't made it there yet. Wow! Shortleaf damn near breaks the national record as well!

I've seen just one impressive hardwood cove along the Chattooga, near Burrell's Ford in GA. Of course, the East Fork has some old growth with some impressive hardwoods but I haven't made it there yet.
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