Bald Top Ridge, GRSMNP, TN   Jess Riddle
  Nov 05, 2005 13:20 PST 

A couple of weeks ago I had an afternoon free to explore in the
Greenbrier section of the Smokies, and chose to explore an unnamed
cove that drains part of Bald Top Ridge's north side. At around 2100'
elevation, the cove empties into the broad flats along the Middle
Prong Little Pigeon River, which are occupied by rich second growth
hardwood stands. The cove's aspect, elevation, and proximity to rich
forests suggested potential for tall second-growth hardwoods.

A vigorous, second-growth, hardwood forest occupies the narrow lower
section of the cove. The narrowness of the cove, lack of rock piles,
absence of black locust, size of trees, and level of diversity
indicated settlers had cleared but not farmed the cove. As typical of
such sites, tuliptree dominate the canopy with scattered yellow
buckeye, basswood, bitternut hickory, green ash, and sycamore.
Similarly, acute leaved hepatica, wild ginger and other species
flourish in the herb layer, and the understory is largely open. Above
that section, the cove briefly levels and broadens before forking. An
uncut stand of hemlock, chestnut oak, and formerly American chestnut
extends down the cove to that level. Along both forks of the cove,
the forest gradual transitions from second-growth to unlogged. The
older sections of forest generally resemble the cut over stands below
them, but they feature less tuliptree, no sycamore or green ash, and
support yellowwood, sugar maple, and white ash.

To make a loop out of the hike, I traversed the crest of Bald Top
Ridge, and descend back to the Ramsey Cascades Trail parking area by
way of Little Laurel Branch. A stunted forest of black gum, chestnut
oak, and table mountain pine grows on the ridge over a dense tangle of
rosebay rhododendron and mountain laurel with a wintergreen
(Gaultheria procumbens) herb layer. A cascade on the lower part of
Little Laurel Branch blocked timbering operations in the area, so much
of the watershed remains old-growth. A hemlock forest with scattered
fraser magnolia, tuliptrees, red maple, and a rhododendron understory
occupies the fork I descended. Shortly below the cascade, a dense
stand of young, rapidly growing tuliptrees flanks the stream, and
hardwood stands following farming occupy the bottom of the watershed.

Species Cbh Height Location
Ash, Green NA 112.5'+ Flats
Ash, Green 6'8" 128.1' Cove
Ash, Green NA 131.0' Cove
Ash, White 11'6" 133.3' Cove
Basswood, White 9'10" 133.3' Cove
Beech 12'8" 126.6' Little Laurel Br.
Hemlock, Eastern 14'2.5 136.7' Little Laurel Br.
Hemlock, Eastern 14'0" 146.7' Cove
Oak, Chestnut 14'10" 99.5' Cove
Sycamore NA 127.3' Flats
Sycamore 5'2" 135.5' Cove
Sycamore 8'3" 141.7' Cove
Tuliptree NA 136.4' Little Laurel Br.
Tuliptree NA 151.9' Cove
Tuliptree 14'+ 152.7' Little Laurel Br.
Tuliptree NA 159.5' Little Laurel Br.

Jess Riddle