web analytics

Trees of Rimrock and Jake’s Rocks

Posted on Aug 16, 2014

As I gaze over the tree tops from Rimrock Over look on the edge of the Allegheny Reservoir in the Allegheny National Forest I’m struck by the sight of tree species that I almost never see in the forests of Northern Chautauqua County where I live, like Boutwell Hill State Forest, one of my favorite local hiking places. At Rimrock I see the dark green shiny leaves of a couple of Black Gum trees below the overlook and there are many more all around. That’s a tree I’ve don’t remember ever seeing in Boutwell Hill State Forest. And whereas Red Oak is the predominant oak tree in Northern Chautauqua County, here in Allegheny National Forest there appears to be more White Oak.

Rim Rock Overlook-Allegheny Reservoir

When I turn from the treetop view I see Chestnut Oaks, mostly small, but two are a good size.  Chestnut Oaks are rather uncommon in my neighborhood. And I’ll have to confirm, but I believe there are few American Chestnuts  around Rimrock (the leaves are quite similar to Chestnut Oaks). At Jake’s Rocks, the other overlook in the same vicinity as Rimrock, there are many small American Chestnuts. American Chestnuts are a rarity in most places, including the Chautauqua region, due to the blight that decimated their numbers in the early 1900’s. Rimrock and Jake’s Rocks are also both populated  with numerous Sassafras trees, especially Jake’s Rocks where the Sassafras seedlings cover the forest understory. Seeing the three differently shaped leaves and sniffing the pungent aroma emitted by a broken twig of this tree is a unique experience in my home vicinity. Why do these trees grow here and not in Northern Chautauqua County?

Rim Rock Overlook-Rocks
Each region has its own climate, geology and history which in turn determines what grows there. Climate is influenced by elevation. The elevation of Rimrock and Jake’s Rocks is around 2,400 feet above sea level whereas Boutwell Hill is about 1,200 feet. The major geological difference between the Allegheny Reservoir region and Chautauqua region is that the Allegheny Reservoir region is unglaciated so that its soils are derived from bedrock. Meanwhile the Chautauqua region experienced a glacier 15,000 years ago that left the materials that make up its soils today. Historically both regions suffered over exploitation but their recovery was different. Almost every tree in what is now the Allegheny National Forest was cut for wood products by the early 1900s.

Rim Rock Overlook-Tina & Rock polypody ferns

In 1923 the Forest Service established the 517,00 acre Allegheny National Forest and the forest was allowed to re grow under the management of the Forest Service as “Land of Many Uses”, use that include timber, watershed protection, habitat variety  and recreation. Western New York forests also disappeared under the axe in the late 1800, early 1900s and farms replaced them.  Crop after crop depleted the soil and when the Depression hit in the 1930’s a farmers had to abandon the already under producing farms leaving much of the land in the state’s hands. The land was so nutrient poor and had major erosion problems that adversely affected the watershed that the state had to do something quickly. So with the assistance of the Civilian Conservation Corp they planted lots of fast growing trees that could thrive in poor soils – Red Pine, Norway Spruce and Scotch Pine. The plantations have now served their purpose of replenishing the soil and hardwoods are taking over the New York forests. Perhaps, in part, it is this different re growth sequence that accounts for the difference in tree species between Northern Chautauqua County and the forests around the Allegheny Reservoir region.

Tina Nelson-Scherman
Visitor Services/Educator