Saturday, February 26, 2011

Images of a Virgin Hemlock Forest

When we got to Blackwater Falls Lodge, our room wasn't ready, so we hopped back in the truck and made the short drive over to Cathedral State Park. This is the last remaining patch of virgin hemlock forest in the entire state of West Virginia. One thing that I can say about West Virginia is that it is packed with some tree-cuttin' sons o' bitches. At the turn of the century the whole state was pretty much denuded of tree cover from north to south, side to side. Every peak and hollow and canyon had been scoured clean of anything woody. One hundred years since that ecological genocide and the forests have somewhat recovered only to be knocked over in the same fashion yet again. Every time we go to the state we are horrified at the endless truckloads of giant hardwood logs we see barreling down the highway headed for sawmills and pulping facilities. Humans never fucking learn.

However, this single 133-acre patch of virgin forest was spared due to the efforts of a single man who purchased the plot and saved it from logging. This has pretty much been the case of most virgin forests in the eastern USA. Foresighted men who decided to do what they could to preserve one small bit of wilderness amidst the rape of industry.

The most amazing thing to me, living here in North Carolina where you can no longer find a healthy grove of hemlocks at all, much less a virgin stand, is that the trees appear to be free of the hemlock wooly adelgid. I assume the pest has not made it this far west for some reason, and even though I'm sure one of my learned friends will apprise me otherwise, I can hope that the plague may have run its westward course and these trees will be spared.

At any rate, it was refreshing to be able to walk through such a stand of hemlock trees (and hardwoods!). All of my favorite groves here in North Carolina and in Virginia and eastern Tennessee have been laid low. It was sweet and wonderful.

Sign at the entrance to the grove.

Stitched photo of one of the first big hemlocks we approached.

Carole at a double-trunked hemlock.

Stitched shot of the open hemlock/hardwood forest.

Along one of the forest streams.

Carole precedes me along the snowy trail.

Although the snow had been melting for a few days, the heavy snowfalls of previous weeks was obvious. This bridge had about three feet of snow covering it.

Just a shot through the forest, with dozens of new hemlocks popping up through the snow.

Old trees fall to make way for new ones.

A peaceful hike.

The park boasts six miles of marked trails.

And plenty of opportunities for walking off trail into the woods.

Standing beside an ancient hemlock.

There was deer poop everywhere. We didn't see any deer, but the signs of their passing were almost everywhere you looked.

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Fieldstone Families said...

I don't know where HWA is in West Virginia, but in terms of how far west it has travelled, it's already made it to the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee.

HemlockMan said...

I'd heard it was on the way, for sure. The folk at Falls Creek Falls State Park told me that they were already treating for it two years ago, figuring it was about to hit.

Fieldstone Families said...

At Fall Creek Falls, I'm guessing they're only going to treat the big ones around some of the various falls, and along the road leading through the park. They probably won't treat what to me is the most beautiful grove of hemlocks there, and can only be reached via the long loop which more or less circles the backcountry. What a damn shame. Visitors to the park will see the mirage-like facade of lovely trees, and if they're too lazy to venture into the backcountry, they'll never even know the sad truth of what's happening.

HemlockMan said...

That's sad. The entire park could be effectively treated with the work of volunteers. If only they'd do it.

Nate said...

According to the USFS, HWA has been in these MD and WV counties for up to 10 years now. I think the cold winter temperatures in these areas kills enough of the HWA to prevent the population from expanding in number if not geography. There's some mortality for sure, but it appears very limited.