Groundhog Creek    Jess Riddle
   Dec 18, 2006 18:50 PST 


A couple weeks ago I returned to the Pigeon River Gorge to see more of
Dry Branch, and explore the rest of the Groundhog Creek watershed.
The 160'+ tuliptrees and extremely tall Biltmore Ash in the one
southeast facing cove that I previously saw on Dry Branch indicated
great potential for the area, but the gorge's complex geology made
more tall forest far from a certainty.

A relatively low ridge separates Dry Branch from Groundhog Creek, but
the latter receives more shelter from a large, steep sided ridge to
the east. Several narrow, shallow coves drain west off that ridge
into Groundhog Creek. The lowest of them have hemlocks and an
abundance of rhododendron on their lower reaches and open, white oak
dominates forests at the upper ends. Farther upstream and at slightly
higher elevation, tuliptree dominates the coves, and the drainages
begin to resemble moist, north facing sites. Basswood also occurs in
the canopy along with scattered northern red oaks and cucumbertrees,
although buckeye is absent, and the understories are largely free of
rhododendron. Flat areas also occur along that stretch of stream.
Hemlocks, white pines, and birches dominate in the upper flats, but
the lower flats have forests resembling a rich, low elevation cove.
Tuliptree dominates as usual, but basswood, black locust, shagbark
hickory, and sycamore make up the rest of the canopy. Each large
tributary of the stream also flows across part of a small plateau.
The flat area on Holly Bottom Branch was farmed, and other sections of
the plateau likely have similar disturbance history.

Dry Branch has somewhat simpler topography. Steep slopes line the
east side of the stream, and many, shallow, southeast facing coves
that become progressively larger going upstream line the west side.
Hemlocks, white pines, and black birch line the stream, but hardwoods
dominate in the coves. The lower parts of the uppermost coves were
clear-cut by the Forest Service about 10 years ago. All the other
coves have tuliptree dominated canopies, and in most at least a few
trees reach 150'. Rich cove species like basswood and buckeye are
lacking, but pignut hickory, oaks and on the edges, white pine fill in
the canopy.

Species                  Cbh       Height
Ash, Biltmore       6.53'      129.9'
Basswood             5.50'      130.2'
Beech, American   8.01'      124.8'+
Cucumbertree       4.05'      123.2'
Cucumbertree       NA         135.4'
Hemlock, Eastern   NA        137.9'
Hickory, Pignut      6.36'      134.7'
Magnolia, Fraser    6.90'      117.6'
Maple, Red           5.04'      121.9'
Oak, N. Red          8.63'      137.3'
Oak, Sauls            5.68'      127.8'
Oak, White           6.56'       127.0'
Sycamore             6.42'      139.6'

All of the above trees grow on Groundhog Creek except the hickory and
northern red oak. The fraser magnolia may be the tallest known
outside of the Smokies. Cucumbertrees under five feet cbh but over
120' tall were scattered throughout the Groundhog Creek coves. The
hemlock is a young, rapidly growing individual rather than an older
remnant tree. Several other northern red oaks in the immediate
vicinity of the one listed above were only slightly shorter, but tall
northern red oaks are scarce in the area overall. The sauls oak, a
white-chestnut hybrid, is the second tallest measured by ENTS.
Several other white oaks in the lower coves were similar in height.

Rucker Index        143.6'
Tuliptree               164.1'
White pine            158.3'
Biltmore ash         150.7'
Pignut hickory       140.9'
Sycamore             139.6'
Eastern hemlock   137.9'
Northern red oak   137.3'
Sauls oak              136.2'
Cucumbertree       135.4'
Basswood             135.2'

The basswood on adjacent Skiffley Creek is the only tree in the Rucker
Index not in the Groundhog Creek watershed.

Jess Riddle
RE: Groundhog Creek   Robert Leverett
  Dec 19, 2006 05:19 PST 


   Are you creating a separate site from Skiffley Creek for Dry Branch?
In our lists do we show two sites or one, though most of the tallest
trees are in both? Should I add Dry Branch as a separate site for Rucker

RE: Groundhog Creek   Joshua Kelly
  Dec 20, 2006 10:18 PST 


Of the two areas with preliminary height measurements in the Bald Mountains,
the Bald Mountain Roadless Area and the Groundhog Creek area, Groundhog
Creek now has the higher Rucker Index by 2'. Nice! Hopefully we can visit
some of the other super-productive sites in the Bald, Nantahala, and Unicoi
Mountains in coming months. By the way - incredible Fraser mag! I also
think the Sycamore is the tallest known from the Balds.

Bien Hecho,
RE: Groundhog Creek   Joshua Kelly
  Dec 20, 2006 17:10 PST 


Dry Branch flows into Groundhog Creek, which is about four miles up the
Pigeon River from the NC/TN line. A search for Groundhog Creek, NC on will get you there. It can also be found on the Waterville
Quad. This area is just a few miles from the northeast boundary of Great
Smoky Mountains NP, and on the other side of the Pigeon River. The
Greenbrier Fault cuts through this area, and the erosion of the state line
ridge over the eons by the Pigeon River has exposed many bands of rock that
are rarely encountered in the Western Blue Ridge outside of the river gorges
(Pigeon, French Broad, Nolichucky, Watauga etc...). The sweet one here is
Pigeon Siltstone, though other groups of rock also have calcium bearing
strata. Lots of generally acidic substrates also - Longarm Quartzite, for
example. Jess has been focusing on the super productive and more gently
sloping creeks north of the river, old-growth surveys (shame-less self
promotion) documented 513 acres of old-growth on the south side of the
river, adjacent to I-40. Lots to look at along the Pigeon River, despite
the den of the highway.

Happy Solstice,
Re: Groundhog Creek   Jess Riddle
  Dec 21, 2006 03:54 PST 


No, right now I am thinking of Skiffley Creek and Dry Branch as part
of the same site. Skiffley Creek seems to have similar conditions,
just not be quite as productive as the adjacent Groundhog Creek
watershed. Without having seen the whole area, all of the streams
radiating out from Big Bend on the Pigeon River would constitute one
site to me.

RE: Groundhog Creek   Joshua Kelly
  Dec 21, 2006 18:30 PST 


That's a difficult question, because there are many sites I haven't seen.
My perception is that there are many productive sites, probably several in
each large watershed (>10,000 acres), however many of those acres are not
being allowed to be forested, or forested to maturity. Of the 24,000 acres
of the Bald Mountain Roadless Area, perhaps just 3000 acres are exemplary of
highly productive forests. Most of these sites do not have old enough
forests to compete with tall tree sites in the Smokies. Sites with 160'
tulip trees are rare, but there will be many more in the next 20 years as
most of these forests exceed 100 years of age. I think that only further
exploration can provide a sufficient answer to your question. My answer is
that there is a sizeable amount of productive land, and very little of it
contains mature forest.

Happy Solstice,