Tuesday, January 23, 2007


My favorite hiking destinations have one common trait: they follow the stream, upstream or downstream, it doesn't matter. Most of these special places feature steep slopes where the dominant tree species if Eastern Hemlock. It it is tree of the north woods. It's Pennsylvania's state tree. A Hemlock is happiest when nestled in a deep stream valley, overhanging a waterfall or rushing brook. The Poconos and Catskills are prime hemlock territory.

Down here in the piedmont hills of Bucks and Hunterdon Cos. hemlocks are limited to the north facing slopes along the creeks and rivers. An outstanding and easily accessible place to see the Hemlock in abundant splendor is the lower Tohickon Creek trail in Tohickon Valley Park, which is located in Pt. Pleasant, PA. Look for the trailhead on the west bank of the Tohickon immediately above the bridge in the heart of the village. If you're driving north from Stockton and Center Bridge there are beautiful patches of hemlock, laurel, and rhododendron on your left, heading north along River Road (Rt. 32).

You will see some magnificent specimen trees. But you will also see sick and dying hemlocks, and this often makes me sad, not because my favorite sanctuaries are being defiled, but because the loss of the grand Eastern Hemlock to the tiny wooly adelgid and other pests would forever change the appearance of the northern forrests, and the loss of shade and nutrients needed by the mountains streams would degrade water quality. The following article shows that at least somone is taking steps to address the problem. A ray of hope in a sea of trouble.

From the Pocono Record
Park Service implements plan to save hemlocks from invasive bug
November 26, 2006

A forest stabilization and restoration project at Raymondskill Falls is under way to protect eastern hemlocks, the Pennsylvania state tree, from further destruction by the hemlock woolly adelgid HWA in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation area.

The project will also foster growth of native vegetation in case efforts to protect the hemlocks are not successful, according to National Park Service officials.

Hemlocks here and elsewhere in the park have been infected by HWA, a small, aphid-like insect native to Japan. HWA was first reported in the East in the mid-1950s and has since spread throughout the area. Many hemlocks have since died or are dying; many others have suffered serious defoliation.

Eastern hemlock is an important part of the forest canopy and is found in 141 discrete stands covering about 3,000 acres of the park ­-- many of them designated as "outstanding natural features with high intrinsic or unique values." Many scenic waterfalls are associated with hemlock stands, and recreational activities — hiking, trout-fishing, and bird-watching — are concentrated in these areas.

The project area covers roughly 6 acres. Part of the area, about two-and-a-quarter acres, is surrounded by an eight-foot-high fence in order to protect tree seedlings and saplings from deer browsing.

The multi-phase project has a number of objectives:
· Remove exotic plants: A National Park Service exotic plant management team worked on the site this past spring and summer, chemically treating or mechanically removing exotic non-native species such as multiflora rose, Japanese barberry, garlic mustard and Japanese stilt grass. These treatments will continue next year.
· Foster regeneration of hemlocks and other native plants: Chemical treatments are also being made to the areas to protect hemlock trees from HWA infestations. About 80 hemlocks were treated this past spring, and a team from Villanova University is analyzing the effectiveness of these treatments. About 50 saplings have also been planted. As noted above, fencing is also being used to protect the area and make it possible for young hemlocks and other native species white pine, oaks, maples, birches and others to grow to maturity.
· Minimize erosion: Nearby trails are being improved and better defined in order to minimize the erosion that often stems from heavy visitor foot traffic.

The park has also placed a number of signs at the site in order to inform the public on the objectives of the project and the techniques being employed.

Similar management efforts are planned in coming years to maintain and restore the hemlock forest at Childs Park, located off Silver Lake Road.

The park will issue periodic reports on the status of the project.

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