Beartown Woods a haven for non-native trees

September 05, 2002|by RICHARD BELISLE

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - There's a narrow strip of cool, shadowy woodland on the south side of Pa. 16 as it heads east up the mountain toward Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., that, if it weren't for the roar of climbing traffic, would be an oasis of calm.

"This would be a great place if it was in a remote hollow away from the road," said Philip Wert, a forester in the 85,000-acre Michaux State Forest.

Called Beartown Woods Natural Area, the 27-acre strip makes up the southern-most reaches of Michaux State Forest. It was designated one of Pennsylvania's 61 natural areas 12 years ago by the state Bureau of Forestry, Wert said.


It was set aside because it contains species of trees usually found only in northern Pennsylvania and into New York State and New England.

"This is a pocket of northern hardwoods," Wert said. "It's a relic, a mystery why they are growing here."

The premier tree of the Beartown Woods Natural Area is the eastern hemlock. It was named Pennsylvania's official state tree in 1931 by an act of the state legislature.

Unfortunately, according to Wert, the species is dying out, the victim of the hemlock woody adelgid, an aphid-related insect that sucks moisture from its needles.

One proud, 85-foot-high, 125-year-old hemlock standing near the side of the road showed signs of death from the pest. Wert said the state is introducing a species of ladybug as a natural predator of the adelgid.

The hemlock along the road would have been doomed anyway because it, along with other trees, stands in the path of a new $4.4 million truck passing lane being built on the eastbound lane of Pa. 16, east of Waynesboro.

The hemlock and its companions will soon feel the bite of chain saws, Wert said.

A walk on a half-mile-long marked trail that follows the beginnings of Red Run Brook shows other tree species not indigenous to Franklin County - sugar maple, American beech, red oak, tulip or yellow poplar, American basswood, sweet birch and witch hazel.

The trail was opened in 1976 as a Bicentennial Tree Trail in honor of the nation's 200th anniversary. Signs along the way explain how colonists used each species.

The durable hemlock made good barn siding and fence posts, according to a sign in front of one of the giants. Poplar made good furniture and houses, another sign said. Beech produced edible nuts and the colonists used the juice from the sweet birch as an arthritis remedy, made beer from its outer bark, and candy and chewing gum from its inner bark. Liniment came from witch hazel bark and its branches made good divining rods, the signs said.

The Appalachian Trail crosses through Beartown Natural Woods Area.

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