18, 2006 18:50 PST
A couple weeks ago I returned to the Pigeon River Gorge to see
Dry Branch, and explore the rest of the Groundhog Creek
The 160'+ tuliptrees and extremely tall Biltmore Ash in the one
southeast facing cove that I previously saw on Dry Branch
great potential for the area, but the gorge's complex geology
more tall forest far from a certainty.
A relatively low ridge separates Dry Branch from Groundhog
the latter receives more shelter from a large, steep sided ridge
the east. Several narrow, shallow coves drain west off that
into Groundhog Creek. The lowest of them have hemlocks and an
abundance of rhododendron on their lower reaches and open, white
dominates forests at the upper ends. Farther upstream and at
higher elevation, tuliptree dominates the coves, and the
begin to resemble moist, north facing sites. Basswood also
the canopy along with scattered northern red oaks and
although buckeye is absent, and the understories are largely
rhododendron. Flat areas also occur along that stretch of
Hemlocks, white pines, and birches dominate in the upper flats,
the lower flats have forests resembling a rich, low elevation
Tuliptree dominates as usual, but basswood, black locust,
hickory, and sycamore make up the rest of the canopy. Each large
tributary of the stream also flows across part of a small
The flat area on Holly Bottom Branch was farmed, and other
the plateau likely have similar disturbance history.
Dry Branch has somewhat simpler topography. Steep slopes line
east side of the stream, and many, shallow, southeast facing
that become progressively larger going upstream line the west
Hemlocks, white pines, and black birch line the stream, but
dominate in the coves. The lower parts of the uppermost coves
clear-cut by the Forest Service about 10 years ago. All the
coves have tuliptree dominated canopies, and in most at least a
trees reach 150'. Rich cove species like basswood and buckeye
lacking, but pignut hickory, oaks and on the edges, white pine
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'
All of the above trees grow on Groundhog Creek except the
northern red oak. The fraser magnolia may be the tallest known
outside of the Smokies. Cucumbertrees under five feet cbh but
120' tall were scattered throughout the Groundhog Creek coves.
hemlock is a young, rapidly growing individual rather than an
remnant tree. Several other northern red oaks in the immediate
vicinity of the one listed above were only slightly shorter, but
northern red oaks are scarce in the area overall. The sauls oak,
white-chestnut hybrid, is the second tallest measured by ENTS.
Several other white oaks in the lower coves were similar in
Rucker Index 143.6'
Biltmore ash 150.7'
Pignut hickory 140.9'
Eastern hemlock 137.9'
Northern red oak 137.3'
Sauls oak 136.2'
The basswood on adjacent Skiffley Creek is the only tree in the
Index not in the Groundhog Creek watershed.
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
trees are in both? Should I add Dry Branch as a separate site
20, 2006 10:18 PST
Of the two areas with preliminary height measurements in the
the Bald Mountain Roadless Area and the Groundhog Creek area,
Creek now has the higher Rucker Index by 2'. Nice! Hopefully we
some of the other super-productive sites in the Bald, Nantahala,
Mountains in coming months. By the way - incredible Fraser mag!
think the Sycamore is the tallest known from the Balds.
20, 2006 17:10 PST
Dry Branch flows into Groundhog Creek, which is about four miles
Pigeon River from the NC/TN line. A search for Groundhog Creek,
Topozone.com will get you there. It can also be found on the
Quad. This area is just a few miles from the northeast boundary
Smoky Mountains NP, and on the other side of the Pigeon River.
Greenbrier Fault cuts through this area, and the erosion of the
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
(Pigeon, French Broad, Nolichucky, Watauga etc...). The sweet
one here is
Pigeon Siltstone, though other groups of rock also have calcium
strata. Lots of generally acidic substrates also - Longarm
example. Jess has been focusing on the super productive and more
sloping creeks north of the river, old-growth surveys
promotion) documented 513 acres of old-growth on the south side
river, adjacent to I-40. Lots to look at along the Pigeon River,
the den of the highway.
21, 2006 03:54 PST
No, right now I am thinking of Skiffley Creek and Dry Branch as
of the same site. Skiffley Creek seems to have similar
just not be quite as productive as the adjacent Groundhog Creek
watershed. Without having seen the whole area, all of the
radiating out from Big Bend on the Pigeon River would constitute
site to me.
21, 2006 18:30 PST
That's a difficult question, because there are many sites I
My perception is that there are many productive sites, probably
each large watershed (>10,000 acres), however many of those
acres are not
being allowed to be forested, or forested to maturity. Of the
of the Bald Mountain Roadless Area, perhaps just 3000 acres are
highly productive forests. Most of these sites do not have old
forests to compete with tall tree sites in the Smokies. Sites
tulip trees are rare, but there will be many more in the next 20
most of these forests exceed 100 years of age. I think that only
exploration can provide a sufficient answer to your question. My
that there is a sizeable amount of productive land, and very
little of it
contains mature forest.