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The mission of Great Mountain Forest is to be a leader in forest stewardship. We practice sustainable forest management, promote biodiversity and resilience to climate change, support education and research, and welcome all who love the woods.

Great Mountain Forest 

December 2022

In this issue:

Holiday Spirit at GMF

Learn Like an Intern

Spotlight on the Crossover Trail

Holiday Spirit at GMF

The 16th annual wreath-making workshops on December 3 and 4 introduced over 60 new and returning participants to locally sourced greens gathered by GMF staff earlier in the week. The greens came from various conifers at Great Mountain Forest and the abutting Coolwater Estate, some of which had been planted for sale as Christmas trees or research. The workshop instructors included craftswomen, healthcare professionals, farmers, foresters, and educators, showing widespread interest in making beautiful wreaths. The materials provided included:

Veitch Fir (Abies veitchii) – This fir species is native to Japan. A graceful tree with soft, flexible branches, its dense foliage is lustrous dark green above with two chalky white bands (stomata) underneath. The needles are flat compared to spruces, and the tips are blunt and rounded.

White Spruce (Picea glauca) – Native to the northern U.S., this spruce is a hardy tree that can endure heat and drought better than most. The needles of spruces are sharp at the tip, differentiating spruces from firs.

Oriental / Caucasian Spruce (Picea orientalis) – This spruce appears in various sites along the main forest road running east to west at GMF. Native to Europe’s Caucasus and Pontiac Mountain, the spruce has short, shiny, deep green needles that lie close to the twig.

Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) – Native to the northeastern U.S. and southeastern Canada, this soft pine is the only pine east of the Rockies with five needles in each fascicle, or bundle, as opposed to hard pines, whose needles grow in bundles of 2 or 3.

Northern White Cedar/ Eastern Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) – This tree is native to the northern lake and northeastern states, from eastern Canada to higher elevations of the Appalachian Mountain states. The common name of this species is misleading as it is not a true cedar but an evergreen conifer in the cypress family. The foliage forms in flat sprays with scale-like needles, making it a beautiful feature in wreaths. The name arborvitae or “tree of life” dates from the 16th century when French explorer Jacques Cartier learned from the indigenous tribes how to use the tree’s foliage to treat scurvy.

Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) – This common, understory woody shrub is native to the eastern U.S. with distributions west to the Mississippi River and eastern Canada. The evergreen characteristics of the leaves make it a perfect candidate for adding dimension to wreaths.

Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticullata) – The green in our wreaths was broken up with the vibrant red berries of this native shrub. The leaves of common winterberry are not shaped with sharp teeth like other hollies and are not evergreen. Winterberry is a deciduous holly native to eastern North America. It typically occurs in swamps, damp thickets, low woodlands, and along ponds and streams; the berries provide food for birds in winter.

Learn Like an Intern

The November newsletter described the 66’ unit of length of a “chain” and its uses in forestry, but here’s one more application. It is likely that hardwoods were at one time harvested from the Forest to build what is known as Virginia split rail fence, an example of which can be seen along Mountain Road in Norfolk. The bottom rail would have been chestnut for rot-resistance, the top rails oak for ease of splitting, all 15’ long. Where woods have grown over fields, the observant hiker can still find pieces of American chestnut rail resting on stones set exactly 11’ apart on center, with the rails criss-crossed at the stones. One chain x 10 chains = 43,560 sq ft = 1 acre, so 132 sections of fence would enclose an acre of land. 

Spotlight on The Crossover Trail

The Crossover Trail connects the Camp Road to the Crissey Trail about a mile in from the East Gate Entrance at 201 Windrow Road on the Norfolk side, heading southeasterly through a mixed hardwood forest. There are many coppices (multi-stemmed) red oak trees from stumps likely left from making charcoal for the iron industry over a century ago.

Along the path, there is a magnificent glacial erratic, a towering boulder deposited 12,000 – 18,000 years ago. Other boulders are visible northwest and southeast of the trail, arranged in what is known as a boulder train or dispersal train from the retreating edge of the glacier.  

The trail continues to a marked spur path that leads southwesterly to a view of Crissey Pond. The trained eye will notice the profiles of native red spruce and tamarack along the pond’s northern shore, and the Leopold bench offers comfortable viewing for beavers, ducks, and the occasional moose.

The main trail leads past a stand of shade-tolerant hemlock trees, happy to be growing in the shadows. Hemlock was not used in the iron industry because it produces poor charcoal, but its bark was used in the process of tanning leather. The health of hemlocks is now threatened by hemlock wooly adelgid, and efforts are being made throughout GMF to combat this destructive insect pest.

The trail intersects with the Crissey Trail, heads northeast (left), and ascends back to the East Gate.

Forest Notices

Welcome to the forest!

GMF is a place of peaceful co-existence for everyone

  • Keep your dog on a leash and if you pack it in--pack it out.

  • Sign in at kiosks at the East and West Gates.

  • Watch for inclement weather notices on social media and website.

Stand with the Trees!

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GMF is critical to the environmental and economic sustainability of the region as well as an important contributor to research and education about climate change and environmental health. Help us support the forest as a vital natural resource and a place for those who love the woods.

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