Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Forest Mystery

I may have posted this photo before. It's from an overnight hike I took in April of 2012. I was on one of the high peaks that lead down toward Montreat when I noticed what appears to be a grassy circle of land in the midst of the forest some miles away. This is the kind of thing that I'm always curious about. Why is it bare of trees? Was the timber cut and never grew back? Is the soil there too poor to support trees? What kind of ecosystem is at work in this small, circular bit of real estate amidst all of that solid forest?

You can see the tiny patch of open space in pretty much the direct center of the photo. Not the larger one on the right, which is just classic exposed rock and shrubs.

The problem is, you can't legally go down there. I'm pretty sure it's part of the Asheville watershed and that land is jealously guarded by the city. Sure, you can break the law and hike in there, but if you're caught, the penalties are severe. Best case, you don't serve jail time, but a heavy fine is levied against you.

Some timber companies were arguing that the concept of the city watershed has outlived its day and that they should be allowed to go in and cut all of the trees. Most of the watersheds above the major mountain towns in North and South Carolina are packed with old growth trees. Timber barons drool at the idea of felling those trees and getting their hands on the profits. I hope it never comes to that.

On the safe side of the watershed. If I were to walk around the other side of the tree, I would be in violation of the law.


Mark Gelbart said...

The bare spots might be caused by ultramafic soils from chemicals leaching from the rock.

James Robert Smith said...

I think I sent a photo of this spot to the brainy folk at Native Tree Society. I can't recall what they said, but one of the responses was very similar to your guess.