Wintergreen Gorge Dale Luthringer
Jul 02, 2003 14:57 PDT 

Bob, Tom, & Bruce,

After a rejuvinating trip into Zoar Valley, I found added energy to continue my survey of the Wintergreen Gorge behind the PSU Behrend Campus. It is a very interesting mature to very mature forest with some trees starting to show old growth characteristics. I noted the following characters on these species:

Species Characters of Advanced Age

sugar maple moss on trunks, start of staghead branching, corkscrew limbs
red maple start of staghead branching
tuliptree some balding, 1st limb 60ft up

Much of the site would classify as a type of wetland soil with at least some facultative wet to obligate plants and other rich soil indicator species: trillium, leeks, may apples, touch-me-nots, sycamore. There is a small array of large dead downed logs and snags. I did find evidence of "wolf" trees farther downstream such as two monster N. red oaks at 12.5ft and 15.2ft CBH (neither would break 90ft high) and an old road of sorts along the opposite stream bank. My take is that there may be isolated sugar maple and Am. beech in here to 225 years, but the older tuliptrees and white ash I found on Sunday on the west side of the stream may go to close to 150 years if not a little bit more. I think I'll have to take my core next time when I'm in there and see what I can get on the tall (140ft class tulips).

There was one tree that I was able to put just over 120ft but was unable to identify. It was growing on a steep shale slope that I was having difficulty with (my Jack Russell had absolutely no problem though - hey Bob, now there's an idea... I could put a reflector on my Russell' and have her bound from tree to tree... that is if I could keep her attention off the chipmunks and woodchucks long enough.) Anyway, the tree had alternate simple branching which didn't help much. The leaves looked like they had a smooth margin, but I couldn't tell for sure, at least if they did have teeth they were finer than birch leaves. The leaves appeared to be in the 2-4" range and aligned in a fairly close alternating pattern. The bottom part of the trunk almost resembled Am. basswood, but the limbs on the upper branches resembled a type of black locust/black walnut texture (totally through me). I'm absolutely stumped... cucumbertree? basswood? The tree was showing the beginning signs of advanced age. I couldn't find any seedlings/saplings with the same structure in the understory, besides all this I was losing light fast. I had "evil" thoughts of bringing my shotgun back to shoot a limb off so that I could ID it... I couldn't climb it either since I don't have Will's arms, or a 120' rope. Anyway, another lesson is in the making.

The day's finds as follows:

Species CBH Height

sycamore 4.9 113.7
tuliptree 10.4 132.5
white ash 9.9 125.4
UI tree 8.8 120.7

I come up with the following if I include the unidentified tree in Wintergreen Gorge's Rucker Index:

Species CBH Height Status

tuliptree 8.1 143.8 tallest in PA
red maple 7.8 136.6 tallest in Northeast?
white ash 9.9 125.4 (HOLY MOLEY!!! tree)
E. hemlock 8.2 124.2
sugar maple 5.7 123.4 tallest in PA (1 side of double stem)
black cherry 8.8 121.3
UI tree 8.8 120.7
Am. beech 5.8 119.5
N. red oak 8.2 115.3
sycamore 4.9 113.7
7.62 124.39

This is up from 122.43 on my first data collection venture. There may be a tulip in here to 145ft, but I think that is pushing it. I don't know what other surprises are lurking here. I'm anxious to get into the site where they're putting a bridge across the ravine (almost finished), which is just downstream from the tall tree site, to see what I can get for tree ages from the stumps, and see if they left any significantly tall trees (not likely). I've scoped out the east bank close to the bridge and it looks like it's all 2nd/3rd growth, but the west bank may still hold some new discoveries.

This site is only 2nd in Rucker Index to Cook Forest in PA. The next closest is Ander's Run Natural Area at 118.65. This site would be comparable to Zoar Valley except on a smaller scale. The tops of the gorge probably rise not much more than 150 vertical feet from the deeply cut shale stream bed.

RE: Wintergreen Gorge Leverett, Robert
Jul 03, 2003 06:05 PDT 


Soooper doooper job. Wintergreen Gorge is my kind of place. To secure a 122.43 index so early on is quite a testament to the site as well as your eye. I have little doubt that you'll push the index another foot or two and it, like Zoar, achieves the index without needing a push from the white pine.

More Wintergreen Gorge Robert Leverett
Jul 03, 2003 12:21 PDT 


Dale's confirmation of a Rucker index of 122+ for Wintergreen Gorge is
no small accomplishment. Wintergreen becomes only the 5th such
confirmation in the Northeast by ENTS. So far we have:

   Cook Forest, PA
   Zoar Valley, NY
   Mohawk Trail SF, MA
   Ice Glen, MA
   Wintergreen Gorge, PA

I have no doubt that we'll find other sites above 120. In time, we may
confirm as many as 10 or 12 sites with an index of 120, but that total
is quite modest. Northeastern sites above 120 are valuable places.
Those above 125 are real treasures.

Wintergreen Gorge new record trees   NR, Cook Forest
  Aug 12, 2003 07:17 PDT 

Bob, Bruce, Tom, et. al.,

I was able to get back into Wintergreen Gorge behind PSU Behrend in Erie this weekend and confirm the previously unidentified ~120ft tree as a slippery elm. I also was able to get a better shot to its top at mid-day compared to my last measurement at dusk. I've confirmed shots that average 123.7ft. I think this turns out to be our current Northeast height record for slippery elm.

I was also able to get another shot on a previously measured white ash branch that I couldn't get to on my last trip at dusk. Confirmed shots for this tree average 129.8ft. This is a new PA white ash record. Wintergreen Gorge continues to surprise me. I might find some other interesting trees as I continue to work the west side terrace of this stream, Four Mile Creek.

Tom & Bruce,

This site might warrant a visit to help me get an idea on age. I'm still not confident in identifying old growth hardwood stands. There are a number of trees in this site that are beginning to show signs of age greater than 150: hemlock, Am. beech, white ash, sugar maple, sycamore, slippery elm. This site has been disturbed before as evidence of a "tram" road at its base. It just might be a very well growing very mature hardwood stand. I think if I can get a look at that old growth on Elk Creek you recently measured, it would help me to determine the status of the Wintergreen Gorge site. I must take my core in with me on my next trip.

Here's the current Rucker Index standings for Wintergreen Gorge:

Species CBH Height Status

tuliptree 8.1 143.8 tallest in PA
red maple 7.8 136.6 tallest in NE
white ash 9.9 129.8 tallest in PA
E. hemlock 8.2 124.2
slippery elm 8.8 123.7 tallest in NE
sugar maple 5.7 123.4 tallest in PA
black cherry 8.8 121.3
Am. beech 5.8 119.5
N. red oak 8.2 115.3
sycamore 4.9 113.7
7.62 125.13 (124.39 on 6/30/03)

Wintergreen Gorge tulips   NR, Cook Forest
  Sep 05, 2003 12:34 PDT 

Bob, Colby, Tom, Bruce, Ed, et. al.,

My Jack Russle and I were able to spend a couple of hours in Wintergreen Gorge behind the PSU Behrend campus to continue documenting the tall trees in the area last Sunday. I was able to find another nice tuliptree at 9.5ft CBH x 145.4ft. This is a new PA height record for tulip. Tuliptree is now officially the 2nd tallest tree species in Pennsylvania. This surpasses the 145.3ft hemlocks at Cook Forest and Snyder-Middleswarth N.A. There has got to be a stand of 150 foot tulips somewhere in PA. I still haven't been able to find the elusive "old-growth hardwood" stand in the Elk Creek watershed in Erie County, PA (haven't been able to get in contact with the POC that notified us about it yet).

I received some historical information from my Great Uncle (family historian, past editor for the Erie paper) about Wintergreen Gorge. Turns out that there were a series of mills that were operated within the gorge, mostly near the mouth of the stream at Lake Erie, starting around the late 1810's to early 1820's. He did an historical write-up about the gorge in the local paper about 20 years ago. There was logging in the watershed via water mills up to the late 1880's.

I've counted rings on downed white ash to 130+ years 30ft up from the base of the tree. It makes me ponder on the severity of logging or lack there of throughout the site. Either someone did a pretty decent cut over 150 years ago, or this is just a very productive site. Mayapples and maidenhair fern scatter the forest floor. The sides of this gorge are very steep with very thin soil over topping shale substrate. Let's just say it's pretty slick in there after a rain. It is very easy to tear up the hillsides with just one person. The flats along the stream meanders that haven't been logged in over 100 years have been very productive in terms of tree height. I think we may have a couple of acres of borderline old growth in there. I've noted E. hemlock, Am. beech, sugar maple, tuliptree, N. red oak, white ash, and slippery elm showing old growth features, but most of these trees are spread out. It is at least a very mature hardwood forest.

I also got into my first stand of forest grown slippery elms in the gorge. Not as high as the 123.7ft specimen, but still respectable. The days finds as follows:

Species CBH Height

N. red oak 8.8 101.2
N. red oak 10.9 107.2+

slippery elm 7.2 103.2
slippery elm 8.8 112.4
slippery elm 8.3 116.3+

sugar maple 7.8 117

tuliptree 9.5 145.4

white ash 7.8 119.7
white ash 8.7 120

The Rucker Index for Wintergreen Gorge now stands at 125.29, up from 125.13 on 8/10/03.

Species CBH Height Status

tuliptree 9.5 145.4 tallest in PA
red maple 7.8 136.6 tallest in NE
white ash 9.9 129.8 tallest in PA
E. hemlock 8.2 124.2
slippery elm 8.8 123.7 tallest in NE
sugar maple 5.7 123.4 tallest in PA
black cherry 8.8 121.3
Am. beech 5.8 119.5
N. red oak 8.2 115.3
sycamore 4.9 113.7

This place is crying for a 130+ sycamore. There's still hope. This place could easily keep me busy all winter.

Re: Wintergreen Gorge tulips   Thomas Diggins
  Sep 05, 2003 13:50 PDT 


Awesome stuff! 130' Rucker is not out of the question, as sycamore, bitternut, red oak, white pine, etc., all could bring you up. Still, even "as is", Wintergreen Gorge is vying with Green Lakes for #4 tall-tree site in the NE. Not a bad day's work! I'm absolutely itching to get into Wintergreen and others of those beautiful PA gorges. They're absolutely tantalizing from the I-90; I'm only imagining what marvelous sites they must be on the ground. You're right about those tulips. I suspect there will be some 150' trees in the gorges. And lots of old growth, even if some logging was done in the past.

Wintergreen Gorge strikes again   NR, Cook Forest Env. Ed.
  Oct 20, 2003 08:54 PDT 

Bob, Colby, Tom, Bruce,

I had a free day yesterday to get back into Wintergreen Gorge behind PSU Behrend Campus to try and wrap up a mature forest section just south of the newly built bridge across the gorge. My 'Russel' and I had quite a day, me measuring trees, and her chasing squirrels and chipmunks.

I got a good look at the crown of the tallest tuliptree (9.5 x 145.4) I've measured in this area from across the creek and on top of the opposite bank. It appears that I still haven't measured its tallest branch. The bottom is quite obscured from this point of view and would definitely take another person to help me hold poles across the creek to accurately use the multiple sine triangle method. I think I'll wait until the leaves fall off to try and get another shot at the canopy. The most southerly side of the crown has always been out of my line of site. It's just an estimate, but this tree might come just shy of 150 when all is said and done.

I crossed the stream and starting working my way northward along the western bank of the gorge. I came to a 20ft bench that jumped up in elevation. I almost skirted around it thinking that it wouldn't be worth my time to look on top of this bench, because the trees would "probably" be shorter. Then I thought, well, even if they are, I'll still be able to get a better view of the lower bench that I'm on. Man, was I ever glad that I did. There were a couple of nice white ash here in the lower 120's, some dandy sugar maples in the upper 110's, and a cucumbertree that was able to elicit an ENTS yell by the time I was done measuring it.

The farthest distance I could get to the crown of this tree was only from directly underneath, so the height might go a bit further. I wasn't able to see through to the southern part of the crown either. I put this cucumbertree to at least 123.1ft! That's a new Northeastern U.S. height record! It beats the previous record that's been held at Cook Forest for quite some time at 122.9ft (although I haven't re-measured that tree in about 2 years).

I also managed to bump up the Rucker Index a little more with a 121.1ft sycamore. I figured there had to be some sycamore in the 120's in there somewhere. One sycamore I noticed in one of the bottom swales looked to me to be ~12ft CBH. Well, sycamore still throw me... it's CBH turned out to be 14.7. As I circled around it to get its CBH I noticed some stonework inside. I thought to myself, now who would go to all that trouble to build a pedestal inside a hollow sycamore? Then it hit me... somebody built this stonework pedestal probably somewhere in the mid-1850's and this sycamore grew totally around it. There is no wiggle room between the stonework and this tree. This pedestal is a good 3ft across by 5ft high. Old sugar maples planted in rows on the bench above suggest an old field or fence row within 100 yards of this pedestal. "Wolf" N. red oaks (~15ft CBH) and sugar maples (~11ft CBH) are in the vicinity along with evidence of an old road. It's just amazing how fast that sycamore has grown over the years. The top doesn't look stagheaded at all. That sycamore can't be any older than 150 years, if not much more than 100.

I've still got to check out another bench that I passed up on my first cursory trip into the area back in the late spring. There were a couple more dandy hardwoods to check out.

I was finally able to work my way all the way up to the new bridge which is under construction. I would definitely say that the area that the bridge is in has been the most unimpressive woodlot I've come across in the gorge. There is a decent stand of sycamore that are beside the south and east bank of the bridge on a flat. This site may have held some nice sized sycamore before they put the bridge through. The north and east bank and both the north/south side of the west bank looked unimpressive. Once I check the last flat or two upstream, I might try a walk downstream from the bridge to see what I can come up with.

The days tally as follows:

Species CBH Height Comments

black walnut 5.2 92+ south side of bridge
cucumbertree 8.6 123.1+ new NE height champ
E. hophornbeam .9 28
N. red oak 15.2 85.5+ wolf tree
N. red oak 11.5 109+
N. red oak 12.1 111+ new 12x100 class
sugar maple 11.2 101.7+ wolf tree
sugar maple 8 114.4+
sycamore 9.5 111.1+
sycamore 11.6 112.2
sycamore 14.7 113.5 encompasses stonework pedastal
sycamore 12.2 113.5 new 12x100 class
sycamore 9.7 113.9
sycamore 8.1 117+
sycamore 9.4 118.1+
sycamore 9.2 119.9+ beside bridge
sycamore 7 121.1
tuliptree 9.4 120.9
white ash 9.6 114.1+
white ash 7.5 122.5+

Its latest Rucker Index:

Species CBH Height Comments

tuliptree 9.5 145.4
red maple 7.8 136.6 tallest NE
white ash 9.9 129.8 tallest PA
E. hemlock 8.2 124.2
slippery elm 8.8 123.7 tallest NE
sugar maple 5.7 123.4 tallest PA
cucumbertree 8.6 123.1+ tallest NE
black cherry 8.8 121.3
sycamore 7 121.1
Am. beech 5.8 119.5

8.01 126.81

So, now the Wintergreen Gorge Rucker Index stands at 126.81. This is up 1.52 points from 125.29 on my last visit. We might pull a 128 out of this site before everything is said and done...

Re: Wintergreen Gorge strikes again   Thomas Diggins
  Oct 20, 2003 10:21 PDT 


WOW! Killer cuke'!

Your work on the PA Lake Erie gorges is clearly demonstrating that Zoar Valley is not just a fluke, but in fact the "type" forest for what might actually be a new ecotype. Zoar undoubtedly has the most extensive old-growth of any of the Lake Erie gorges, but I anticipate we will eventually find half a dozen major, and perhaps dozens of minor, high-quality gorge forests stretching from just south of Buffalo to the outskirts of Cleveland. Various stages of maturity should be represented, including additional old growth (the Nature Conservancy has qualitatively identified old growth in the Chatauqua and Twenty-mile Gorges in NY). In addition to being superb tall-tree sites, these gorges will likely display canopy diversity far in excess of anything seen on the uplands in the region, with 15-25 species in the overstory. Cool.

RE: Wintergreen Gorge strikes again   NR, Cook Forest Env. Ed.
  Oct 20, 2003 11:04 PDT 


If we can get a cuke' to 123+ with ease in Wintergreen Gorge (4 Mile Creek), I'm thinking there's a 130' class out there in a more protected area. The tree didn't look to be much over 130 years old. There are portions of Wintergreen that may pass as old growth, but most of the area I would classify as very mature 2nd growth growing in fertile soils. This has the makings of a great comparison study. I've been given a tip that the next gorge system over (6 Mile Creek?), may hold some decent specimens also.

Do you know who or what group qualified the 'Coho Property' (mouth of Elk Creek and assoc. cliffs of Lake Erie) as old growth?

Re: Wintergreen Gorge strikes again   Thomas Diggins
  Oct 20, 2003 13:10 PDT 


Yes... Six-mile Creek should also be awesome. Emergent tulip trees are clearly visible from the I-90 above. Looks like a beautiful unbroken canopy of impressive broadleaf forest. I'm hoping for some old growth (slopes at least?), but this site is pretty accessible from downstream, so it too may have been logged in the past. I believe the TNC estimates for acreage of old growth in the two NYS gorges are less than 100 acres each - even some of the slopes were logged. Hey, we get surprised sometimes though. No idea on the "Coho Property". Sounds like that was a disappointment. Most of our experiences in NY went the other way, especially in the western end of the state with its shorter European history. As often as not, when someone suspected they had old growth, they did (e.g., the superb Lily Dale Woods).

Wintergreen Gorge update   Dale J. Luthringer
  Nov 03, 2003 09:55 PST 

I took an opportunity last Saturday to get back into Wintergreen Gorge
behind PSU Behrend. I walked part of the north and eastern cliff
abutment behind the southern end of the campus in search of stunted old
trees. We definitely have stunted hemlock and some oaks along the cliff
face and edges that would go over 150 years. The acreage is quite
minimal though. I still haven't walked the entire eastern cliff edge,
but we may have some small stature old growth here.

I then walked down into the gorge from the eastern side along the main
cliff face to check on the record red maple (136.6ft). I then crossed
the creek, J.R. in tow, to finish up tallying the benches at the base of
the western side of gorge. Found a couple more nice trees including
some personal bests and a new PA basswood record. The days tally as

Species                        CBH     Height   Comments

Am. basswood               9          121.7    new PA record (42 7.110N
x 79 59.522W) fox squirrel lives in its trunk

Am. beech                    7.1        107.6
Am. beech                    N/A       114.4

Bitternut hickory            5.1        116.6    personal best
Bitternut hickory            3.1        98.3

Black walnut                  5          111.9    personal best

Sugar maple                  9.4        108.9
Sugar maple                  N/A       113.4

Sycamore                     7.7        129.7    I knew there was a 120'
in there somewhere! (tough tree)

Tuliptree                        8.4        130
Tuliptree                        11.7      125.6    double

Vitus sp.                       2.1                    personal best

White ash                     6.5        120.3

Witch hazel                   .6         24.5

The basswood and sycamore were both buggers to measure. I had to climb
almost halfway up the very steep and slippery western bank to get a good
shot on both. It was quite precarious to say the least. then I looked
over to see that 'J.R.' made it up the slope with ease and even had
enough running room for chasin' chipmunks. I'm going to have to bring
cleats on my next trip. I'll have to blame that on Will. He wore down
my hiking boots on those steep North Carolina slopes last fall. Looks
like its time to get a new pair of boots.

The Rucker Index bumped up a good bit also. It went from 126.81 on
10/19/03 to 127.89 on 10/25/03:

Species                        CBH     Height   Comments

Tuliptree                        9.5        145.4    
Red maple                     7.8        136.6    tallest NE
White ash                     9.9        129.8
Sycamore                     7.7        129.7
E. hemlock                    8.2        124.2
Slippery elm                  8.8        123.7    tallest NE
Sugar maple                  5.7        123.4    tallest PA
Cucumbertree                8.6        123.1+ tallest NE
Am. basswood               9          121.7    tallest PA
Black cherry                  8.8        121.3
                                    8.4           127.89

RE: Wintergreen Gorge update and general chit chat   Dale J. Luthringer
  Nov 03, 2003 16:00 PST 


I got to the red maple, but shooting through the canopy and ground cover
proved too time consuming for what I was prepared to do that day. I
think Wintergreen's index will start slowing down now. With
perseverance it should go to 128 easy, but I think the mid 129 range is
out of the question... it sure would be nice to be wrong though.

It is very hard getting into some of these gorge systems in terms of
private property... that is, without going into my camouflage mode. I
tried getting into 6 Mile Creek (next easterly drainage) earlier that
day but was thwarted at all easy access points. My next try will be
from downstream-up, instead of upstream-down. Looks like there are some
nice tulips and sycamores to document here. If there is no public
access from the downstream route, then I'll have to proceed to
'hat-in-hand' techniques. Most of these gorges are accessed by
fisherman on a regular basis with fairly easy public access points. I
haven't found one yet for 6 Mile Creek.

These gorge systems continue to surprise me. I haven't given up hope on
the Elk Creek system either. Very steep cliffs here reminiscent to Zoar
Valley, but take about 100-150ft off vertical height. Most of the flats
are farmed or recently logged within the last 80 years. The few areas
that haven't been logged since the mid-1800s are disappearing fast.
Wintergreen has escaped much of this do the best of gorge being under
university jurisdiction.

Wintergreen Gorge from the air   Linda Luthringer
  Dec 23, 2003 15:24 PST 
Bob, Tom, Bruce,

Here's a quick look at Wintergreen Gorge from the air:

The parking areas of Penn State Behrend is almost directly center of the image. Note the roadwork about 2" north of center going across 4 Mile Creek. Wintergreen Gorge is between the RT8/Parade St. & Harborcreek exits on I-90. I've surveyed the entire stretch from the center of the photo north to the roadwork. There still might be some surprises south of center to just north of I-90.

The next image is of 6 Mile Creek. It is just east of 4 mile creek just outside of the above image and between the Harborcreek and Wesleyville exits on I-90:

The first place I'd like to hit here would be just south of center of this picture. Just south of where 6 mile Creek intersects I-90.

Both images are located in Erie, Erie County PA. It's in middle of the upper northwestern notch of PA.

The doc says I can start putting weight on the ankle, but only in the brace.

It's killin' me, Bob, it's killin' me!