Mouse Creek- Big Creek, NC GRSM Will and Jess
May 25, 2003 


Jess Riddle and I began to explore further upstream in Big Creek, GRSM. We
selected the drainage of Mouse Creek to survey yesterday (5/24/03), as it
possibly contained some uncut forest according to research done by Charlotte
Pyle and others. Well, their map was wrong but the day was not a loss.

The entire area, except for a few small isolated (high-graded?) areas was
totally devoid of old trees. Even the steepest slopes were cleared and some
areas were grape tangles that had no trees. The logging was extensive and
complete. However, like the classic phase goes, "Never say never!", the
Smokies once again yielded some surprises.

On the way up, in an unnamed steep cove we spotted some nice re-growth
tuliptrees. Four trees measured sin + sin were 144', 153.87', 163.69' and
170.48'(10' cbh). Shooting straight up with the laser revealed that 150'
trees were common. Further up slope in another small cove we found a
mountain silverbell that was 12' cbh and 114' tall. With crown spread
factored in this tree is within 2-3 points of a National Co-Champion and a
North Carolina State Champion. The silverbell remnant was the largest girth
tree we measured all day! There were a few large gnarly hemlocks scattered
about but the sites were so rich that hemlock was not common except on rocky
ridge outcrops. A tall Fraser magnolia reached 111.7', the tallest I have
measured and the tallest known in NC. The Park record is 118' as measured by
Jess in Greenbriar, TN.

After a steep and rather nasty ascent we finally made it up to the upper
reaches of Mouse Creek. The re-growth was primarily tuliptree and black
cherry 120'-130' tall. Some of the cherry was 8' cbh and 125' tall. The
first targeted flat we went to was cleared. However, the re-growth was
phenomenal. A particullarly nice grove of bitternut hickories surprised us
with a new height record for the species. A 5'4" tree topped out at 156.3'
with neighbors 147.45' and 138.77'. Several other trees promised to reach
near or above 150' but the visibility was very poor because of the leaves.
In fact, the canopy was so dense we could not measure many of the tall trees
at all. A tuliptree next to the tall bitternut was 155.95', indicating that
bitternut can hold its own with tulip on the same site at least for the
first 70 years!

From the bitternut grove we went up stream to find another flat cove. This area
was also cut and had spindly re-growth of northern hardwoods so we
headed east to another flat cove lower down. The last cove we surveyed was
also cut over but has re-growth that may soon be re-writing the books on
tuliptree maximum height. The tuiliptree grove follows a narrow riparian
corridor along the main stem of Mouse Creek. The sides are steep and rocky,
offering the trees in the "canyon" good exposure protection and probably
constant soil moisture all year. Because of the thick canopy, we were only
able to sin + sin measure nine trees. These nine trees AVERAGED 159.35'. The
tallest tree was 172.1' and only 8'5" in girth (remember these trees are
only 70 years old!). Straight-up laser shots revealed 150 feet was common,
if not below average. Dozens more trees have yet to be measured- a leaf-off
endevor! Now think about it... The tallest forest in the East is a
second-growth tuliptree grove on neighboring Baxter Creek. It has an average
dominant canopy of around 163' and is around 130-140 years old. The Mouse
Creek grove is only half the age and nearly the same average height! Some
questions come to mind:

Does tuliptree have a non-age or vascular maximum height or will these Mouse
Creek trees go to 200' or more?
Are the Baxter Creek trees holding at a maximum height they have been at for
60 years?
Why doesn't the older Baxter Creek grove have 200' trees right now?
Where are the 180' tuliptrees? Trees over 170' have been found all over rich
sites in second and old-growth forests in the Smokies. Why not 180'????

On the way out Jess and I spent a little time in the flats near the
campground. Here we measured several sweetgums and sycamores over 130' The
tallest sweetgum was 135.8' and 5' in girth- a new park height record. This
grove has the potential to have a 140' tree in it somewhere; another fall
project. We spotted a grove of sweetgum across the river that may surpass
these and appear to be growing in or near the essentially unsurveyed flats
that have 4 sycamores over 150'.

Will and Jess
May 25, 2003