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Curtiss-Gale Forest
State Wildlife Management Area
Oswego County, New York

The Curtiss-Gale ForestCurtiss-Gale is a preserved site, protected by a covenant in the deed. According to Cana11ing Oswego River (NYS Canal Commission, pg.13), the Curtiss-Gale Forest was donated to the state by former owners H. Salem Curtiss in 1918, and by Thomas and Ida Gale in 1936, with the stipulation that the site be used as "a wildlife and bird sanctuary." According Seaway Trail Wildguide (pg.140), Curtiss and Gale stipulated that this forest "remain forever natural and untouched."

The Curtiss-Gale Forest covers 45 acres between Route 57 and the Oswego River just south of Fulton. Most of the site is second-growth with a plantation of Scots Pine, with understory of Striped Maple nearest Rt. 57. However, farther west toward the Oswego River, Curtiss-Gale contains about eight acres of confirmed Old-Growth Forest on a ridge overlooking the Oswego River. There are many rock outcroppings on slope leading to river. The Old-Growth Forest segment has all the characteristics of classic cathedral-type old-growth, including:
  • large old shade-tolerant trees
  • extremely well-developed treefa11 pit and mound topography
  • many large downed loge, most extremely decayed
  • spiral grain on both massive trunks of standing trees and downed logs
  • abundant moss
  • fungus
  • trees straight and very tall, 110 to 117 feet, and possibly over 120' tall
  • trees branchless for 60' or more
  • balding bark: shaggy bark (Red Maple), rusty bark (Hemlock)
  • buttressed roots
  • trees on sti1t roots (Yellow Birch)
  • stag-headed, lofty crowns
  • Surrounding the Old-Growth is old second-growth that has a great many large grapevines (largest vine: six inch diameter, estimated age 150 years). This old-growth forest is probably the last remnant of the original forest that towered over the historic natural water route that (with several portages) connected Albany with Oswego, the main water route used by the British in colonial times to reach the interior of North America.

    According to Donald D. Cox, author of Seaway Trail Wi1dguide, (Seaway Trail Foundation, P.O. Box 660, Sackets Harbor, NY 13685, 1996, pg. 141), Curtiss-Gale "may be the best example of a mature climax forest in Oswego County." Also, according to Cox, the site has Sassafras and Flowering Dogwood, but we did not see these species on our initial survey. The forest here is very diverse, and could possibly contain these species.

    According to Sean Fagan, who is knowedgeab1e about the Fulton area, this old-growth forest is the site of the "Windrow"—or massive b1owdown—in the opening scene of James Fenimore Cooper's classic frontier novel The Pathfinder, sequel to his The Last of the Mohicans. This site, with its huge old-growth Red Oaks and Red Maples, seems to reflect a windstorm disturbance of about 1750-1760—the time of Cooper's novel. Today, the site looks much like Cooper's awesome description of the primeval forest of central New York:

    "The forest... had little to intercept the view below the branches but the tall, straight trunks of the trees. Everything belonging to vegetation had struggled toward the light, and beneath the leafy canopy one walked, as it might be, through a vast natural vault that was upheld by myriads of rustic columns." (Cooper, The Pathfinder or The Inland Sea, NY: Signet, 1961, 1980, pg. 17)

    First Survey Team Visit
    September 14, 2002

    roughly 8-acre 01d-Growth Forest
    Team Leader: Rob Henry
    Assistant: Tom Howard
    Others: Sean Fagan, Beth Frey
    Data Sheet: CurtisGale-ds01

    Tree Species
    Beech, Hemlock, Red Oak, Red Maple
    Associate Large Trees: Tuliptree, Black Oak, Sugar Maple, White Ash, Yellow Birch, Black Cherry, Chestnut (common and small on slope leading to river), White Oak, White Pine (slope to river)
    Associate: Small Trees: Striped Maple (very common in understory), Witch-Hazel, Shadbush

    These trees are estimated to be at least 250-300 years old, and logs and stumps have lain on forest floor since 1930 or even earlier, as the site does not seem to have had much disturbance since before 1930, or even before 1918.

    All heights measured by Robert Henry with his clinometer.
    Tree Data
    Size Data
    Tuliptreebalding bark9.8'37.3"85'spiral grain
    Red Maple7.4'28"
    Beechgiant tree11.1'42.5"115'possible state champion
    Beechgiant tree10.1'38.6"117'possible state height champion, dates "1912", "1913" carved in trunk
    Red Oaknear Beech just above11.3"43.3"116'Partridgeberry near this tree, largest tree seen
    Red Oak10.1"38.5"109'
    Age Data: Rings
    BeechHuge shattered stump, hollow only edge intact rings on .5" radius15extremely tight
    White Oakbranch2" radius70
    unknownDecayed hollow stump on2" radius at edge, radius of stump l foot45very tight
    Hemlockstump, rotted hollow, only edge intact on2" radius at edge, radius of stump l foot90very tight
    Hemlocklog to north, rings on 2" wide outer section of stress fractureradius 15.3"90extremely tight, spiral grain

    Tom Howard
    NYOGFA Central NY Survey Team
    September 23, 2002

    New York Old Growth Forest Associationwww.championtrees.org/NYOGFA/updated: 11/06/2002