Rich cove madness in Big Creek, NC    Will Blozan
   Apr 13, 2003 13:41 PDT 
ENTS and others,

What an awesome day today in the Smokies! Sunny, 70 degrees and a carpet of
wildflowers everywhere. I explored two unnnamed coves today in the Big Creek
District, NC. The coves lie between Baxter Creek and Big Branch, and are
rather small and unimposing. However, they adequately bridge the arboreal
gap between Baxter Creek-with the tallest known forest in the East and Big
Branch- with the tallest known white ash and American sycamore. I was
puzzled last night looking at my map why I had not explored there before.

I ascended the first cove, which was second-growth forest, by following the
stream because the sides where terribly steep and composed of loose tallus
and slick herbs. The steep slope did not keep the tall trees out as the
first tuliptree I measured was 160.67'. Similar was the next one at 160.38'
I also bagged two more 140'+ basswoods at 140.54 and 143.19', and a sycamore
that looked much taller than it's 136' measurement indicated. In all, I was
able to measure 10 trees for a Rucker Index of 129.76'. If I had measured
the n. red oaks, black locusts or chestnut oaks that reached ~125' the index
would be around 133.5'. Three cucumbertrees made it over 130' with the
tallest one standing at 136.06'. Bitternut hickory reached at least 141.56'.
Black birch reached 113.3'.

I crossed the ridge and went west into the next draw towards Baxter Creek.
The first tree I saw as I descended the ridge was a gorgeous 10'8" cbh white
basswood. I took four shots on this tree and came up with an average of
148.9' (new record!) with an range of 147.92'-150.93' The other two heights
were 148.02' and 148.83'. With it's well-formed and still-growing top this
tree should enter the 150' club in a few years. It turns out this tree is
not far at all from the lower section of the Baxter Creek Trail and is at an
apparent cut line; below this tree is second-growth tuliptree dominated
forest. And did they dominate! This young cove already has at least two
tuliptrees over 160'! One was 161.84' and the other 162.72'. American
sycamore reach over 140' with the tallest 153.31'. A skinny sycamore only 5'
in girth reached 146.27' and was holding it's crown position among the
tuliptrees. This tree should be watched as it couldn't be more than 60 years
old and may become a "super-tree" of exceptional height. Several other
tulips reached the upper 150's. A young basswood in this cove has already
reached over 131'. I only measured a few trees because I wanted to get down
to Big Creek. I intended to scout a bench along the river above the mouth of
Baxter Creek in preparation for the ENTS measuring trip the following week.

Here is the "tease". The bench along Big Creek holds some curious forest
patches. One area is skinny tulips, the other old-growth sugar maple,
hemlock and beech, and still other areas look like an elevated railroad
grade. Regardless, some fine trees grow there: among them at least three
sycamores over 150', a possible NC State record bitternut hickory, an
immense cucumbertree, and an almost guaranteed new black birch height
record. Tuliptrees may hit 160'. I didn't spend time in there getting
heights other than shooting straight up from below to get ideas. I'll save
the sycamores for Bob...

I know what your saying (whining?) Bob- "IT'S JUST NOT FAIR!!!"

Gee, with super second-growth like this I wonder what the old-growth was