This is a new file opened February 3, 2014 to accommodate the essay Between Edwards and Fenwick: A Slice of First Growth. This essay is intended for the summer 2014 issue of Kaatskill Life.
BETWEEN EDWARDS AND FENWICK: A SLICE OF FIRST GROWTH Michael Kudish
Hunter Mountain, at 4040 feet the Catskills’ second highest, has a most unusual history – very atypical for a Catskills peak. Almost every imaginable kind of forest disturbance – both natural and human - has occurred somewhere and sometime on this mountain.
This essay is limited to two independent and non-simultaneous disturbances. The history of the two disturbances will be described one at a time, followed by this forest historian’s observations of the current landscape, and finally a synthesis will be made relating the two.
COLONEL WILLIAM EDWARDS’ NEW YORK TANNERY
Colonel William Edwards established the New York Tannery for the manufacture of leather in Hunter Village in 1817. One of the Colonel’s main hemlock bark roads, built in the early 1840s, headed east from Hunter Village and then south through the Stony Clove Notch. From this main road, smaller bark roads branched off and ascended Hunter and Plateau Mountains. One of the Hunter Mountain branch roads climbed steeply up from what is now the water supply cistern for the Devil’s Tombstone State Campground. It divided in a hemlock grove into several tributary bark roads. All the tributary roads terminated where the hemlocks did – between the 2600- and 2700-foot levels.
The Colonel’s tannery ran through the mid-1850s so that all barking in the region was done by that time.
FENWICK LUMBER COMPANY
The Fenwick Lumber Company, of Fenwick, West Virginia, began operations in 1906 and ended about 1917. These operations are famous for their huge lumber piles and saw mill in the Myrtle Brook Valley, the two cable railways, and the two high-elevation logging camps. Fenwick cut largely spruce and hardwoods from the south and west slopes of Hunter Mountain via a system of log roads, horse-drawn logging railroads, and the two rail cableways. They did not cut the east slopes of Hunter Mountain previously barked by Edwards some 70 years before.
One of the Fenwick log roads headed east out of Summit Camp (a logging camp and cableway-head at the site of the present Devil’s Acre Lean-to) following the 3500-foot contour for three-quarters of a mile. This old road is now a segment of the Devil’s Path hiking trail.
OBSERVATIONS OF A FOREST HISTORIAN
In the fall of 2011, I hiked the Devil’s Path beginning at the Devil’s Tombstone State Campground (elevation 1990). I had not been on that segment of trail in many years and had planned to study paper birch and mountain ash at the Devil’ Acre. What else I observed during that hike I could never have imagined when I started; it is this “something else” that forms the basis of this essay.
The initial part of the hike was steeply up through a forest that had been barked by Edwards. At the 2600-foot level, the trail entered a persistent hemlock grove and intersected one of Edwards’ tributary bark roads. Many of the hemlocks in this grove had been too young and too small to harvest in the 1840s, and have since matured.
I continued to climb above the barked forest, and after a series of new switchbacks, came upon a grove of sugar maples of considerable size and age at the 3000-foot level. Above them were red spruce and yellow birch of similar size and larger. Just off the trail were huge red maples, black cherries, and even beeches – many 18, 24, 30, and even up to 36 inches in diameter. From ring counts, I was able to determine that these weather-worn, contorted and gnarled monarchs were 150 to 200 years old.
The trail then turned north and, at about the 3350-foot level, left the ancient forest behind. Soon the trail abruptly turned to the west at elevation 3470, leveled off, straightened out, and entered a log road; I had just passed what was once Fenwick’s east boundary line. For the next three-quarters of a mile, all the way to the Devil’s Acre, the forest was young; it included a few widely-scattered yellow birch stumps that had not completely rotted in one hundred years.
CONCLUSIONS OF A FOREST HISTORIAN: BETWEEN EDWARDS AND FENWICK – A SLICE OF FIRST GROWTH.
While at the Devil’s Acre, it suddenly dawned on me what I had just hiked through. In between elevations of about 3000 and 3470 feet, the large old trees indicated a belt of forest that neither Edwards nor Fenwick had touched. There was no hemlock for Edwards to bark, and it was beyond the lands owned or leased by Fenwick.
Perhaps these conclusions, I then thought, might make an appropriate article for Kaatskill Life on how a forest historian assembles the pieces of a puzzle together.
I look now at the east slopes of Hunter Mountain as a sandwich, with Edwards and Fenwick representing each a slice of bread. In between, the filling of the sandwich (a slice of meat or cheese perhaps) is a slice of first growth forest.
I then wondered how extensive this first growth tract is. I had observed it mainly from the Devil’s Path, but how far north and south did it extend off this trail? Three subsequent bushwhacks in 2012 and 2013 yielded yet another discovery.
In the 1990s, I had been asked by two organizations to map the extent of first growth on the northeast slopes of Hunter Mountain. I did find a belt of it, extending both north and south from the Becker Trail between elevations of 3000 and 3500 feet. At that time, I had no idea that there was any first growth remaining on Hunter Mountain farther south on the eastern slopes - in the vicinity of the Devil’s Path.
It was only last year - in 2013 - that I realized that the belt of first growth which crosses the Becker Trail continues south, crosses the Devil’s Path, and ends a full three-quarters of a mile beyond. It is one continuous tract, two and one-quarter miles long, by an average of one-third of a mile wide, and totalling about 475 acres.
A unique feature of Hunter Mountain – absent on all other Catskills peaks - is that the hiker can enter first growth forest not only as he/she ascends from the base, but also as he/she descends from the summit!