Sunday, December 5, 2010

Parkway Tree Project ~ Share the Journey ~ BRP 75th

Hey Folks, winter is on us up here in these mountains. I am sure you feel it too. 

I recently heard about the Blue Ridge Parkway Tree Project. I have three trees in the Watauga Section of the MST that I am going to recommend.

On Saturday I went to photograph the last of the three and to begin the photo selection process. I can only submit one photo for each tree. So you, my friends can help me decide by letting me know which capture you like the best from this posting.

The criteria for selection for this project include: images of trees within the Parkway boundaries that stand out as the most beautiful, the oldest or largest, trees that tell a story or have a place in history and those that are unique for their shape, species or character. 

The photos above represent the Grandview Apple Orchard. In the first photo you can see the MST weaves gracefully through this orchard on the east side of the parkway.
There are perhaps a dozen fruit bearing trees remaining on the edge of this forest; some are red and and some golden. I feel certain they all would be considered "heritage seed lines".

I suspect the orchard was there when the BRP was cut through along this stretch. No doubt they are over 70 years old, perhaps even 100. You can tell by their form they have been knocked down by nature many times.

These trees can be found less than .2 miles north from the Grandview overlook near BRP MP 281.4.

Interestingly, just a short distance South from the Grandview Overlook the next colony of trees can be found that I think are significant to register.

This is a ridge on the east and south side of the BRP that drops off into Elk Valley. The ridge is adjacent to the Parkway and hikers pass by this habitat on the East shoulder as they step out of the forest trail near MP 282.4.
These photos were taken in early May and capture the grandeur of this cluster of Native Dogwood habitat. Trees in this stand reach heights of nearly 50 feet. They have survived on an incredibly steep southeast facing ridge. Many of our native dogwood trees have succumb to blight, insect, or storm damage in these mountains.
I do believe because they are on the south side and because they are truly on the edge of the Piedmont (just below the crest of the escarpment) that they must benefit from the warm air rising from the lower elevations to which they are a more prevalent species.
The last tree that I am submitting for recognition is the "Deep Gap Maple" standing due north of BRP MP 278 and across from Osbourne Mountain Overlook. I have studied this tree for 15 years and know it as a heritage tree for our community and for the BRP.

Here is a link to another blog of mine specifically about this tree.
Look here Deep Gap Maple
I hope you will take a look around on that blog too...see what you can find there in ;-)

The Deep Gap Maple can be seen from Highway 221, Old 421, and the Doc and Merle Watson Memorial Highway (new 421). It is truly a landmark maple and is unique in the fact that the BRP boundary posts form an inset perimeter around this mighty tree. There are concrete and medallion survey strikes and boundary posts defining the protected foot print for this tree.

In December of 2009 and early winter of 2010 this tree took quite a beating from the winter ice storms. Yet it remains standing and will self prune eventually regaining its habit (form) even with the scale of damage done to it by nature.
I like the dramatic light in this photo and will likely submit this one for the photo exhibit.

It is worth noting that there is a hilltop grave yard beneath this tree. It is marked as a cemetery on the national maps. The gravestones are all field stones with dates, initials, and a few names scratched into them. I took rubbings of stones with dates from the 1830s to the 1890s.
When I first began to explore on this hilltop this entire ridge was covered in a pine forest. Now the the forest is gone and the Christmas tree farm has encroached on the nature of this hillside. Many of the grave stones have been covered or lost.

I'd love to work with a group of volunteers clearing, cleaning, and recovering this heritage cemetery. I think an arborist could prune and shape the damaged limbs into healthy growth that might survive yet another 170 years.

Let me know if you have a favorite photo. I'd be interested in hearing from you in the comments section below or by email. I would also like to know if you have any information or stories associated with these trees. Doyou have significant trees in your awareness along the MST?

I just realized that this set of photos takes the viewer through all four seasons. From winter to fall there are moments in nature to discover if we take the time to explore with open eyes.

enjoy~ shelton

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

November 20 Trail Construction

Starting this morning on the roadside of the BRP. These seed puffs of goldenrod were dazzling!
We had a good turn out for a late November work day. Six volunteers showed up to continue the progress south from Goshen Creek.
Task force leader John Lanman organized the work day and distributed tools.
I've been collecting photos from trail worker bumper stickers over the years and plan to do a trail workers gallery of  memorable messages soon~

Today I will share a few steps about the process of cutting a trail tread. One of the most valuable tools is the mattock, sometimes called a Pulaski. In the photo above Don uses one if full swing mode. Notice his cut is along a straight line between the flags that have been placed for this section.

Much difficulty can be expected in the initial cut and pull with the mattock.
This cut is crucial and should be deep enough to cut through all roots that cross the trail from the upper edge.
The flat and broad edge of the mattock makes the first cut line as straight as possible between the two flags.
Here is an indication of the line cut and the length of the mattock.
Generally workers will take a section between flags and work from one point to the next in this order.
After a cut line has been made, the edge slice is pulled back with a fire rake.
Once raked back, indications of where additional digging and leveling is needed can be determined. This section has now been cut, pulled, and raked.
At this point the loppers come in handy. Loppers are used to cut roots below the tread surface, snipping the many fibrous and strong roots.
In this close up you can see the many hundreds of roots that may be revealed within a trail tread cut. It is not necessary to pull all of these up and remove them from the tread. These roots also provide stability to the dirt and upon compression made by walking help reinforce the foot tread. The general rule is if it is long enough to catch a toe of the boot it should be cut and removed.
A well cut edge is visible in this stretch. The grade of the foot tread is level and the surface has been raked.
James Jack is tackling a root that was large enough to be dug out completely on the other side of this fallen decaying tree.

Mark surveys his next stretch to be developed.

Lunch time, story time, memories and quiet reflection are a welcome break for our volunteers. From left to right: John, JamesJack, Gerry, Don, Mark, and camera man, Shelton were our volunteers today. Thanks all! Never underestimate the accomplishments of a dedicated few individuals!
This may well be the last colorful leaves of autumn. I was lucky to look up after break and spot this moment of intense sunlight on these few remaining maple leaves. It was pretty high up and I had to switch lens to zoom in and get this capture. In this quite, highlighted second I realized the final color of fall was making a transition into the grays and browns of winter.
And there is beauty and wonder to be found therein. As each of the seasons are but a never ending spiral of transitions, demise, and rebirth.

Here's wishing everyone a relaxing, rewarding, and thankful Thanksgiving holiday.
Thanks "Given" to all of our volunteers for their service.
Thanks "Given" for all the moments of wonder, beauty, and challenges provided in nature.
Thanks "Given" for the grace found in the giving.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Marching South ~ Ashe Volunteers Expand Territory in Watauga

The frost lay heavy on this November morning. People 'round here call it a hard frost, a killin' frost.
Surely this wild buttercup will be frozen meltdown brown by tomorrow.

I'm never too hurried to stop and shoot, even at 7:00 am on the way to the storage shed to get the tools for the day there is time to discover beauty. This last rose of fall stands alone against the onset of winter. (click on photos to enlarge)

We had a good work crew today. Seven new friends from the South Ashe task force and four volunteers from the Watauga Crew.
Entering the forest and climbing the ridge toward the new trail I found these lines of light and shadow. Wishing our trail work would be in such an open area today instead of the rhododendron forest.
Reaching the starting point everyone took a few minutes to peel out of the extra layers, the climb had warmed us up. It might be 34 degrees outside, but we were toasty by now.
Our youngest crew member, Haywood, went right to work on a problem he was ready to tackle. He hung his pack on the hanger and started the dig.
Jim found a spot just down the trail to begin to level. Everyone went to a seperate but close spot to work. Trail building is a kind of puzzle to be solved, pieces worked on one at a time until they fit together at the edges and create a continuous new section.
Soon it was time for a break and everyone found a seat on the high bank to relax and refresh. In this photo (near to far) Tom, Russ, Barry, Don and Lorris relax within the brotherhood.
Chris and Marietta take a break and ponder the weeks ahead. Soon Chris will roll off the mountain for the winter. He'll be back on the trail in the Spring ready to march further south toward Blowing Rock.
Haywood and Granpa Jim are an inspiration to work with. Haywood has already developed the "SKILZ" it takes to build a trail. He coached me on a couple of decisions. Many times he pitched in at just the right moment to accomplish the task.
This would turn out to be one of the major challenges of the day. Removing huge "dugout canoe" that was buried many a century ago right smack dab in the middle of the trail! Why did those natives bury that hardwood canoe in our trail?
Here Chris begins to tackle this interesting problem under the watchful supervision of Haywood.
A few feet further down the trail Lorris and Russ wrestle a mighty rhodo root ball from the center of the trail. Jim says some of these can be 100 years old. In the progression of the forest they grow to the light, they get spindly and lay down, only to grow back up from the root ball again.
There is such a sense of accomplishment to pull those monsters out. Bravo!
But now, back to that canoe, (which was really a 10 foot hardwood root) that runs lateral in the middle of the trail. Seemingly it would be easy to remove. NOT! At one point there were five men working on this one problem.
The more prying and chopping and digging we did we discovered that on the underside of the root there were offshoot roots going straight down into the earth. Chris and Don and Haywood pry it up using the two mattoxs as a fulcrum and the rock bar as the lever.
Once it was pried up about 6 inches, Jim delivered the final assault with the axe on the underside roots.
It turned out to be massive! Chris wrestled it out and he and Don heaved it a good.... oh, 6 inches below the trail! ;-)
No penalty assessed for over celebration on that goal!! (I love this capture, click photo to enlarge)
Now there is trail where once there was none. Others will walk where we struggled. Someone coined the phrase "we work hard so you walk easily" to describe the trailbuilders motto.
Nothing compares to the smell, the feel, the refreshing walk on newly carved trail.
I went back up to the new section the next day with my trail dog for an inspection.
Oh what a pleasure to find passage through this rhododendron forest.
Wrestled from beneath the surface of the earth that behemoth of a root still lays menacingly along the trailside. GRRRRRRR....
Sometimes folks say a new trail cut looks like an injury in the forest. But just a few inches above there are patches of  green moss and flora. I can assure you, in less that a year, the mosses will cover this section of bare earth and rebuild the community of life that lived along the path. In nature things become natural again.
Some of the most marvelously twisted Laurel trees are within this section. Ancient, gnarled, bent and tormented by the harsh winters in these mountains these laurels have a remarkable will to survive.
No where else have I seen such monumental laurel except these sections in Watauga. They are so tall they look like trees. Yes, Nature recovers from mans' intrusions.
This mighty oak log must have been 100 years old when it fell ~ at least 100 years ago. Until today it laid still, quiet, slowly becoming earth. We only hastened the process by cutting a trail through it this morning. And from this day forward each passing hiker, sniffing dog, and shooting photographer will notice and marvel at its ancient wonder.

Thanks to all of our volunteers who came out to build trail today:
Jim, Haywood, Chris, Marietta, Shelton, Don, Lorris, Tom, Barry, and Russ.
The experience is fleeting, but nature is eternal, nature is the constant, and in trail work, our nature is to be in the moment.

We build these trails
so others may go
where we have gone
when we are gone
from where we have been.