Jones Branch and surroundings, GSMNP, TN   Jess Riddle
  Aug 06, 2006 18:55 PDT 

A few weekends ago, Will Blozan and I packed up a tripod and monocular
and headed off to the Cosby, Tennessee section of the Smokies. Our
targets for the day were the national champion red maple and a former
national champion yellow buckeye. The current national champion
buckeye had recently fallen, so this trip, in addition to gathering
volume information, would confirm the former champ is still alive to
reclaim its title. Similarly, the red maple had not been seen in
several years, and had never been visited with a rangefinder.

We quickly hiked up the Maddron Bald Trail through dense stands of
tuliptrees that sprang up when farmers abandoned their fields as the
park was formed. We continued past the old fields into old-growth for
only a few hundred feet before veering off the trail towards Indian
Camp Creek. 

ACRU champ tall_1_1.jpg (76758 bytes) 
The current national champion red maple on Indian
Camp Creek, GSMNP, TN.

The champion red maple stands on a gently inclined strip
of ground between the deeply incised creek and a rocky depression with
a trickle of flowing water. Hemlocks, Fraser magnolias, and other
large red maples share the moist but well drained ground, and a dense
growth of rosebay rhododendron fills in the understory. Surprisingly,
a single mature umbrella magnolia also grows in the record tree's
shade at an unusually high elevation for the species of over 2800'.

IMG_0594.jpg (283646 bytes)
Another view of the champion red maple.

The maple has an unusual and asymmetrically buttressed base due to
growing half-on a large boulder. Above that massive, fluted, 21'10"
cbh base, a large trunk rises and gradually tapers to the first limb
at about 48' above the ground, which is over two feet in diameter.
Below the limb the trunk is 13.6' in circumference, and above the
limb, the trunk is an 11.2' circumference column until forking at
slightly over 65' above ground. From there, two branches, each over
two feet in diameter, carry the crown to 119.9'. The crown formed by
the three large branches appears full and vigorous. Below the fork,
the trunk contains 1045 cubic feet of wood. We do not have a good
estimate of the branch volume yet, but if the branches are treated as
cones, which I believe significantly underestimates their volumes,
they contain 235 cubic feet of wood. Those estimates give a total
volume of at least 1280 cubic feet, far less than either of us
initially thought.

IMG_0605.jpg (284988 bytes)
Rich cove forest in an unnamed cove between Indian Camp
Creek and Jones Branch, GSMNP, TN.

From the maple we proceeded to the former champion yellow buckeye via
a highly circuitous route. We ascended a narrow, north facing cove
that contained a 12'1.5" x 156.8' hemlock and a rich cove forest
featuring many mature sugar maples and buckeyes. The east side of the
cove supported markedly different vegetation, so a quick jaunt over
the ridge to the next cove became a scramble through mountain laurel
and the tops of table mountain pines killed by pine beetles during the
droughts of a few years ago. However, the other side of the ridge,
upper Jones Branch, featured more open, rich cove forest. Descending
Jones Branch back to trail, we quickly encountered a stout, 14.27' cbh
white ash. 

IMG_0610.jpg (297655 bytes)
The new Smokies park diameter record sugar maple on Jones Branch, TN

Farther down the stream, a burly 14.44' cbh sugar maple is
the new park diameter record, but does not have a particularly large
trunk or great height. 

TIHE trunk_1_1.jpg (66749 bytes)
The basswood on Jones Branch
IMG_0622.jpg (300216 bytes)

A large basswood on Jones Branch, TN

 Nearby, a potential Tennessee state champion
basswood grows on a slope and has reached 13'11" x 130.6' x 65'.

We took the Maddron Bald Trail back down to the Gabes Mountain Trail,
which wound through older forest to Cole Creek. The stream's narrow
watershed harbors hemlock covered slopes and a narrow band of richer
forest along the creek. 

AEFL  former champ 2_1_2_1.jpg (66017 bytes) 
The former national champion yellow buckeye on
Cole Creek, GSMNP, TN

In that rich strip, and right beside the
creek, grows the former national champion yellow buckeye surrounded by
basswoods, yellow birch, sugar maples, hemlocks, and a few other
buckeyes. Or at least, that is where the tree grew. We were saddened
to see that pathogens have reduced the tree's crown down to a few
dozen leaves on one small branch; the tree will probably not leaf out
again next year. Viewing this trip as our last opportunity to collect
volume measurements before the tree starts breaking up, we went ahead
and set up the monocular. The tree has a huge base that rises out of
a bed of stinging nettle and waterleaf and is 18'1" cbh. The trunk
quickly tapers to 15'11" at eight feet above ground, but then assumes
a much more columnar form. The trunk stays over 12' in circumference
for the next 40' then tapers some before forking at 61' above ground.
One fork is snapped off, but the other continues up to a total height
of 135.1'. Those forks and the main trunk allow the tree to amass
1020 cubic feet of wood, not including the large branches and forks of
the upper crown. The total wood volume likely approaches 1200 cubic

IMG_0626_1_1.jpg (95755 bytes) 
A vivid Bolete fungus growing beside the Gabes Mountain
Trail, GSMNP, TN

On the way out, we made one last stop to measure a healthy beech near
the trail. The beech has a 10'11" cbh with a full crown that tops out
at 124.7'.

Jess Riddle & Will Blozan