Deep Creek   Jess
  Sep 24, 2002 19:45 PDT 
My dad, my roommate, and I spent the last week of August wandering around
the Deep Creek watershed on the North Carolina side of the Smokies.
Unfortunately, we didn’t cover that much new ground, or see any new forest
giants. The Deep Creek trail provides easy access to some beautiful
forest, all of the flats along the creek look like they have at least been
selectively cut. The uppermost mile plus of the trail passes through
northern hardwood forest that appears entirely undisturbed by logging.
Sadly, beech bark disease is now widespread in this forest. Approximately
half of the beech trees in this area and in the flats lower down have
already succumbed to the disease.

The flats along the creek probably supported large tuliptrees at one
time, but selective logging left few trees much over 13’ cbh. The loggers
seemed to ignore the hemlocks; consequently, 10-12’ cbh hemlocks in the
130-140’ height range now dominate the area. Scattered hemlocks exceed
13’ cbh and 140’ in height, but we didn’t see any that could challenge the
Pole Road Creek Hemlock as largest in the watershed. Below the first
tributary from the east, Cherry Creek, a major tributary of Deep Creek,
looks similar to the flats along Deep Creek. A fallen hemlock in the area
looked to have over three hundred rings, and another nearby hemlock has at
least half a dozen branches well over a foot in diameter. The only
hardwood we measured in the area was a 6’10.5” cbh sourwood.

We spent another day rock hopping along the Left Fork of Deep Creek. The
stretch of the creek between below Deep Gap and the first prominent bend
in the stream downstream of the mouth of Keg Drive Branch resembles Deep
Creek in forest composition, but the trees are slightly smaller. The bend
in the stream appears to mark the lower edge of cutting. In that area
grow several tuliptrees 5+ feet in diameter. The tallest known hardwood
in eastern North America, a 175.5’ tuliptree, grows near the stream, but I
don’t know if the tree is in the vicinity of the bend or not.

Rich cove forest occupies a far large proportion of the Nettle Creek
watershed than of the watersheds of the other tributaries of Deep Creek.
Both the north facing coves a couple of hundred feet above the stream and
the flats between 3100’ and 3300’ have dense herbaceous layers and
deciduous canopies. Unfortunately, either a major storm or a selective
logging operation has passed through the area. We didn’t see any cut
stumps or roads in the area, but we did find one rusted, old pail. Sugar
maple is common in both the flat coves and the gentle slopes along the
creek, but I can’t remember seeing a single individual that exceeded 18”
dbh. White ash were less common and slightly larger, but they did not
approach the size the area appeared capable of supporting. Likewise,
basswood and silverbell were major constituents of the canopy, but were
not large. 12’ cbh tuliptrees are abundant, and a few individuals reach
15’ cbh. Rain severely limited our ability to measure heights that day.
Large trees of other species included a 13’7” buckeye and a 14’2” northern
red oak.

Our hike out of the watershed, up to Clingmans Dome Road let us see some
nice trailside trees. The 146’ red spruce Will Blozan measured a few
years ago along the Fork Ridge Trail still has an intact top. Sorry, no
updated height. The trail also passes by a 14’4” cbh hemlock that grows
on a ridge top. Within site of both the Fork Ridge Trail and Deep Creek,
is a 20’5” cbh tuliptree. The tree’s low fork may have saved it from
being cut. Farther down Deep Creek, the Deep Creek Trail passes a 4’0”
cbh mountain-laurel. The most impressive tree within site of the trail
may be a sourwood on the far side of the creek below the mouth of Beetree
Creek. The 6’8.5” sourwood does not branch in the first 50’. Both of the
tree’s forks reach over 100’. We roughed out the total height of the tree
at 111.7’.

We also spent another afternoon, until another downpour made us give up
our hopes of using our rangefinders, wandering around the headwaters of
Rocky Fork, another tributary of Deep Creek. The western side of the
stream has an open spruce canopy with and understory of fraser fir seedlings,
red spruce seedlings, and witch-hobble. The spruce were consistently
7-8.5’ cbh and 110-115’ tall. The largest spruce we measured was 9’5.5”
cbh and 107.3’ tall. The slopes farther down stream may be capable of
supporting larger spruce. A 2’4” cbh American mountain-ash in this area
is 56.1’ tall. Another mountain-ash at the nearby Fork Ridge trailhead on
Clingman's Dome Rode is 3’8.5” cbh and 51.8’ tall. These mountain-ash blow
away all the individuals I’ve seen on mountaintops in north Georgia and
around Highlands, NC, but I haven’t spent much time at high elevations in
the Smokies to know the sizes the species is capable of attaining.
We also spent a little time on the Tennessee side of the park to look at
the Road Prong Trail. My guess is that the area receives too little
sunlight to allow spruces to reach large sizes. A cluster of spruce in
the flat below the mouth of Tomahawk Prong may reach 120’, but spruce in
the area are otherwise small.

Jess Riddle