Shining Rock Wilderness   Jess Riddle
  Apr 20, 2004 10:09 PDT 

The Shining Rock Wilderness lies on the north side of the Blue Ridge
Parkway in southwestern North Carolina. The approximately 18500 acre
wilderness ranges in elevation from slightly below 3600' to 6030', and the
name comes from an outcrop of quartz on the main ridge in the area. Much
of the area was exposed by fires in 1925 that followed logging in the area
and a subsequent set of fires in 1942. has a pdf
document with more thorough background information on the area.

I stayed on the when I visited the area on Sunday, so my description of
the area is biased towards the larger streams and main ridge. Throughout
the wilderness, logging and fire disturbances to not appear to have been
as severe as implied by several accounts. Fire char occurs on chestnut
stumps in some areas, but unburned stumps and logs are widespread;
however, the extensive balds that cover the main ridge developed following
the fires. The balds are typically shrubby and approximately head height
with catawba rhododendron, fetterbush, and blueberries being most common.
Grasses still dominate some areas, but pin cherries are beginning to grow
in those areas and red spruce are scattered in the more shrub dominated
areas. In the transition zone at the lower edges of the balds spruce,
serviceberry, mountain maple and ferns form an open forest. In the
forested area below that zone and extending done to approximately 4000',
yellow birch and northern red oak are by far the most abundant canopy
species. Yellow buckeye is common on some of the north facing drainages,
which have open understories. Boulderfields on south facing slopes also
have open understories under nearly pure northern red oak canopies, but
rosebay rhododendron forms thickets on more moist but not rich slopes.
The lowest elevations in the area also have abundant rhododendron, but
some richer coves have open understories and dense herbaceous layers.
Trout lily is particularly prolific in some of the coves on the East Fork
of the Pigeon River, where it grows with mayapples and at least three
species of violets. Tuliptree forms most of the canopy in those areas and
the rest of the lower elevations. Yellow birch remains widespread along
the streams and black cherry commonly mixes with the tuliptrees. The
lower elevation forest show much less structural diversity, and most of
the trees are less than six feet in circumference. Contrastingly, the
logging operations appear to have never reached the birch and northern red
oak forests on the North Prong of Shining Creek.

Conifer distributions in the area are somewhat surprising. Spruce are
common in the higher elevations, but do not form closed canopy forests.
Hemlock are widespread and common, but occur only mixed amongst hardwoods.
The exception to that pattern may be in the vicinity of Yellowstone falls
on the headwaters of East Fork Pigeon River, which appears uncut. The
lack of dominance by these two species over most of the area may be an
artifact of past disturbance history. Pines occur only rarely in the
area, which could be a function of elevation more than disturbance
history. Seven white pines are present in a cluster on the East Fork
Pigeon River and I saw one small one on the main ridge. The only other
pines I saw were about two dozen young ones on a bald at about 5600'. At
first glance I thought they were pitch pines, but the cones are at most
two inches long and somewhat more narrow than pitch pine cones. The
needles are two per fascicle, and four or five inches long. The bark is
gray and uneven, similar to loblolly pine or pitch pine of similar
dimensions, and the branches are whorled. Given that they only occur in
one small area near a road access, one possibility is that they are red
pines that someone planted, but I've never seen the species before to be
sure. Other possibilities include pitch pines with highly unusual cones
and shortleaf pine with exceptional bark and structure.

Species Height Cbh Topo feature Age of Area Comment
Birch, Black ~84' 8'2" E. Fork Pigeon R. Remnant By far largest seen of
Birch, Yellow 67.5' NA Greasy Cove Prong Cut edge Typical large one for
Birch, Yellow ~77' 8'11.5" Greasy Cove Prong Cut edge Near above, on of
the largest
Buckeye 122.9' >10' Shining Creek Remnant One of the largest trees seen
Cherry, Black 109.3' NA Shining Creek 60-80 years Typical
Cherry, Black 107.9' 2'7" E. Fork Pigeon R. 60-80 years 131:1 H:D
Fir, Fraser 39.2' 2'9" Shining Rock Ledge ? Semi-forested area, snags
Fir, Fraser 46.5' 4'0" Shining Rock Ledge ~80 years No previous ENTS
Hemlock 120.1'+ NA E. Fork Pigeon R. Remnant Emergent, large for area
Maple, Sugar NA 9'6" N. Prong Shining Cr. Uncut Some remnants larger
Oak, N. Red NA 12'0" Grassy Cove Gap Uncut Many slightly smaller in
Oak, N. Red ~101' 11'11" N. Prong Shining Cr. Uncut Many slightly smaller
in vicinity
Rhodo, Catawba NA 1'5" Shining Rock Ledge ? Uprooted, semi-forested area
Spruce, Red NA 9'9" Shining Rock Ledge ? Largest near trail, semi-forest

White basswood, beech, yellow buckeye, black cherry, eastern hemlock,
shagbark hickory, black locust, cucumbertree magnolia, sugar maple,
northern red oak, white pine, and tuliptree all exceed 100' in height in
the areas I saw. Additionally, pignut hickory, red maple, and red spruce
may reach 100' occasionally. I saw some tuliptrees that probably exceed
130', but I don't see much potential for significantly taller individuals.
Yellow buckeye is the only other species that might reach 130' currently.
A Rucker Index of slightly over 110' would not be surprising.