Walnut Creek Gorge update   Dale Luthringer
  Feb 08, 2004 21:04 PST 

Bob, Will, Colby,

Had some extra time today so I thought I'd get out and continue my survey of the Walnut Creek Gorge in Erie County PA. It's a very short drive, or should I say walk, from my wife's home in Fairview, PA. It's been a number of months since I've done some serious cataloguing in this watershed, so I thought I'd continue to work upstream. This particular section of stream runs upstream from Millfair Road to Sterretania Rd. Portions of this stream abuts property managed by the Asbury Woods Nature Center.

I definitely had some surprises today, along with raising the anti for the Walnut Creek Rucker Index. I found my first 130ft class tuliptree in the Walnut Creek Gorge today, along with a first 120ft class white ash. The absolute marvel of a find today was a monster Am. beech. This tree was massive! The height was nice at 119.3ft, but its CBH of 15.7ft blew me away! It was located at almost the bottom of a steep ravine, and tucked in along a sharp bend in the ravine receiving cover from the south and west sides from prevailing winds.

I first spotted the gnarly crown of this tree from a vantage point on a bluff about 300 yards out. I had to work my way around private property to come in from the east side to get a top down view of this tree. I thought it had a decent height, but I didn't think the CBH would go much more than 10ft from the top of the bluff. The trunk was severely rotted and I could see right through its base and out the back of the tree. I was able to find a slender finger down the escarpment further east, and worked my way over to its base. I then thought, man this tree ought to make 12ft CBH easy. I by no means dreamed it will surpass 13ft, let alone 15ft. This monster beech is a single stem, but is severely rotted. Raccoons and fox squirrels call it home. The trunk is cracked about 1/3 of the way through, but it is still standing and not quite ready to give up the ghost.

The only reason I can think why this tree is still alive is because of the protection it must get from its location in the bottom of the steep ravine which block the prevailing winds. This tree is ancient, although we'll never know how old it actually is. I bet it'll go to 250 years easy. I'd like to say it's more than that, but it is growing in good soil, and I just haven't counted rings on many beech of these dimensions before. Matter of fact, I haven't seen a forest grown single stem beech this big before... it had many of its 'sons' around.

I wasn't able to positively ID one particular tree in this section. It elicited a number of different bark species characters. The arrangement and leaf litter (under 1.5ft of hard pack snow) weren't giving up any definitive clues either. The UI tree was slender at 6.6ft CBH x 117.8ft high. The bottom section of trunk to about 15ft was starting to bald. Above the bald it looked like classic sugar maple bark, farther up, it looked like the lateral peel of the white oak. It was definitely alternate, so that throws out maple. It had well defined buds at its top, so I was even think 'cucumbertree'. I was able to find a few Am. basswood leaves near it's base, but I still wasn't convinced. The last time I had problems like this was with a slippery elm in Wintergreen Gorge. The white oakish lateral peel towards the top was similar to that of other slipperies I've seen in the area, which still makes no sense to me. Anyway, I think I'm sliding towards slippery elm, but it looks like I'll have to wait for the leaves in spring. That'll give me a good excuse to check out the flat on the opposite side of the stream then.

The day's tally as follows:

Species            CBH    Height    Comments

E. hemlock       6.6        83.9
E. hemlock       N/A       93.3
E. hemlock       6.9       104.4
E. hemlock       N/A      109.7
E. hemlock       N/A      111.6
E. hemlock       N/A      112.3
Am. beech        N/A       94.3
Am. beech        N/A       95.7
Am. beech        15.7     119.3    monster, new 12x100 class, 42 3.057N x 80 10.869W
bitternut hickory N/A      97.5
bitternut hickory 6.2      103.9
bitternut hickory 6.4      115
black cherry      8.2       106.6
cucumbertree    7.8       105.1+
N. red oak         9.6       107.3
N. red oak         9.2       108.1+
N. red oak         10.2     108.1+
quaking aspen   N/A        78.1+
sassafrass        5.2         93.8    
sassafrass        N/A        95.2   still can't break 100'
sugar maple     N/A        111.7
sycamore         N/A       84.4
sycamore         N/A       104.8
sycamore         N/A       108.7
sycamore         7.8        110.4
sycamore        N/A        117.4
tuliptree            9          113.9
tuliptree            N/A       114.3
tuliptree            9.3        114.4
tuliptree           10.5       126.6
tuliptree            9.5        135.5    1st in it's class in this watershed
UI tree              6.6        117.8
white ash          10        90.9
white ash           7         113.1
white ash          8.2       124.2     1st in it's class in this watershed

The latest Rucker Index for Walnut Creek Gorge as follows:

Species            CBH    Height    Rucker Index

tuliptree            9.5        135.5    120.6
sycamore         15.3       133.8
white ash          8.2        124.2
Am. beech       15.7       119.3
sugar maple      9.6        118.8
UI tree              6.6        117.8
black locust      7.6        116.5
bitternut hickory 6.4       115
shagbark hickory 6.3      112.8
E. hemlock       N/A       112.3

The RI made a big jump up to 120.6 from its previous 112.52. We might go 120 on sugar maple along with black cherry somewhere in here, but most of the decent cherries have been whacked long ago. The little secluded coves and flats along the bends of these ravines may harbor more surprises.

I've attached the latest PA RI standings and the updated PA 12x100 list. Walnut Creek now moves up into 4th place out of 12 in terms of PA RI sites:

Site                                Rucker Index

Cook Forest State Park    135.27
Wintergreen Gorge           127.89
Fairmont Park                  127.72
Walnut Creek Gorge         120.6
Ricketts Glen SP             119.85
Ander's Run Natural Area 118.65
Heart's Content Natural Area 113.79
Alan Seeger Natural Area 111.13
Coho Property                  109.59
Tionesta N.A.                   109.36
Glenwood Park                   98.08
Parker Dam SP                  85.57

Walnut Creek American Beech   Dale J. Luthringer
  Feb 25, 2004 18:15 PST 
Will, Bob, Tom, Colby,

I finally got a hold of a copy of the 1993 edition of the 'Big Trees of
Pennsylvania' to see what they had listed for American beech. The only
listing of Am. beech was first nominated in 1979 and last re-measured in
1993. It is located on the Unevangelized Fields Mission property, 306
Bala Ave., Bala-Cynwyd, Montgomery County. It's stats are:

20.8ft CBH
115ft crown spread
87ft high

Totaling 366 points. I don't know if it's a single or not.

I was able to get back to Walnut Creek in Erie County, PA and get some
slides of that monster beech I found the other day. I also got a rough
crown spread measurement. It's stats are:

15.7ft CBH
59.8ft avg crown spread
119.3ft high

Totaling 322.7 points.   I still haven't gotten word when the new
publication will be coming out.

Walnut Creek update   Dale J. Luthringer
  Jan 09, 2005 17:23 PST 

I was able to get back into Walnut Creek a few months back to check up
on that tall unidentified tree that I found earlier. My guess was that
it was a slippery elm. Turns out that's what it was. It also grew a
little too. It is now at 6.7ft CBH x 124.6ft high which I believe is
the tallest documented so far in the Northeast.

Walnut Creek's Rucker Index now stands at 121.69 which puts it at #6 of
out 19 surveyed Pennsylvania sites.

I also checked on the nearby monster single stem Am. beech. It's still
standing and has put on a little girth. I couldn't find a good vantage
point from underneath to get a good height remeasurement. I originally
had to shoot this one from the top of the gorge to see most of its
crown. It now stands at 15.9ft CBH x 59.8ft avg. crown x 119.3ft high
for 325.1 big tree points. I think it will be a new champ Fagus
grandifolia for Pennsylvania, that is unless someone has found a double
somewhere. I'd put big bucks that this is the largest forest grown
single stem beech in the entire state.

Scott, do you have the figures for Elizabeth's tallied American beech?
Earlier she said it was going to be very close, but for some reason I
think she was comparing it to European beech (at least that was the
latin name she was giving back to me).

RE: Walnut Creek update   Dale J. Luthringer
  Jan 10, 2005 17:31 PST 


I'm not sure about the volume measurement. It does have a buttress
base, but it still is about 13ft CBH 8ft up the tree. It appears to be
a solid 9-10ft CBH column to at least 80ft up the trunk.


-----Original Message-----
From: Jess Riddle 
Sent: Sunday, January 09, 2005 11:28 PM

Wow, impressive beech. I'd like to run across one that size in the
woods down here. I think you've even beaten the Smokies in terms of
circumference, and the heights not shabby either. How much volume does
it have?

Jess Riddle
RE: Walnut Creek update   wad-@comcast.net
  Jan 10, 2005 18:01 PST 
Dale, Jess

The retired National champ beech is in Bala Cynwyd (kinwood) the last thing I have on it is the 1993 measurements. 250cbh 87' tall 115' spd for 366points.

the 2004 2005 National champ is in Lothian Md and weighs in at 279cbh 115' tall 138 avg spd. for 429 points

Both appear to be open grown types due to the spreads. I will contact Michelle at the Morris arboretum to see if she still has the figures from last year. She was to remeasure it. Who knows, it may be gone.