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Delaware Forest
Kingston, New York
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Delaware Forest
Delaware Avenue
Kingston, New York

Scouting Visit
June 17, 2002
Leader: David Yarrow
White Oak
Delaware Forest
Kingston, New York

PHOTO DYarrow 6/17/02

Mauro Parisi and David MacCandlish
measure a forest matriarch

Southern Oak Forest

A four-hour scouting visit on June 17, 2002 explored three areas of this 108-acre woodland. The size and boundaries between these commnities became clear after viewing an aerial photo of the ridge and forest. We confirmed this endangered woodland has a large number of big, ancient trees, with significant old growth characteristics. This forest definitely merits more intensive, immediate survey.

The southern end is a mix of three species old growth and mature oaks, with an understory dominated by hickory and maple species, all growing on a dry, rocky terrain of steep slopes and hollows with thinner topsoil and numerous rocky outcroppings limestone. The forest is dominated by large trees in three oak species: White, Northern Red and Black. The largest trees exceed 12 feet in circumference, although most trees are six to nine feet. A remarkable percent of these big oaks are Black Oaks.

These southern woods have an abundance of young hickory and maple saplings and small trees, but few mid-size trees, suggesting a significant disturbance event many decades ago. And we saw only two white pine (7 foot 7 inch and 5 foot 8 inch girth) and one hemlock (7 foot 1 inch girth) of any size. The lack of other species, the lack of middle age trees, the paucity of species in the herbaceous layer, and the scarcity of woody debris suggest this forest was severely disturbed by cutting in the late 1800s or early 1900s.

On the lower end of Delaware Avenue, along the southernmost edge of the forest, a few large caves were cut deeply into the limestone bedrock at the south base of this ridge. This cave system includes a large underground lake, and the cave openings are visible from Delaware Avenue. In the early 20th century, these caves were used by a family-owned business to grow mushrooms.

Today, the mushroom business is gone, but the caves are still owned by the same Knaust family. Currently, these caves are fenced off and unused except by bats. The bat population includes the endangered Indiana bat.
Huck Fasteners
first of several factories planned for this ridgetop woodland

PHOTO DYarrow 6/17/02

Industrial Park

The north edge of this southern oak section is marked by the first of several buildings planned for the new Kingston industrial park. This sprawling, single story steel structure was built about 1998. Hundreds of tons of limestone were drilled, blasted and hauled away to carve a driveway up to the ridgetop from lower Delaware Avenue. The forest was clear cut, and more limestone blasted and bulldozed to create a large, level footprint for this largely windowless building. A small pond with frogs, salamanders and dragonflies once was where there is now an asphalt parking lot.

Contemplating many more such structures to replace this ancient oak forest is painful and disturbing. After six years, the City of Kingston doesn't have any businesses ready to build on the site, but is developing the ridgetop in the hope such industries will be found to occupy "shovel-ready" sites.
Limestone Boulders
remnants of an ancient megalith?
click to enlarge

PHOTO DYarrow 6/17/02

Mystery Stones

However, oddly and ironically, at the western edge of this modern industrial intrusion into an ancient ridgetop forest is an even more ancient enigma. Several very large limestone slabs have been erected in a cluster. These mysterious boulders sit at the very edge of the opening in the forest created by the factory, partially exposed to the sun, yet still slightly shrouded behind shrubbery, and guarded by knee-high poison ivy.

At first look, these huge stones seem simply to be a heap of boulders, randomly deposited by nature—perhaps a so-called "glacial erratic." But a more careful assessment suggests a more intentional and intelligent purpose for the placement of these very large stones. These large limestones are slabs that have been stood vertically on edge, and pretty much aligned in the same direction, at one of the highest points on the ridge. A more thoughtful opinion is these are more megaliths—Stonehenge-style constructions, many of which have been uncovered all through the Hudson Valley. If so, these limestone slabs were erected many millennia ago.
Delaware Forest
one of many patches
of this woodland herb

PHOTO DYarrow 6/17/02

Middle Section

The middle zone is much richer in species diversity, and in topsoil and moisture. Maple, cherry, birch, hophornbeam, ash, hemlock, and white pine are much more present than the southern woods. Dogwood and sassafras were even observed. A more complete range of ages are also present, creating a denser woods with a more complex canopy structure. However, this section also showed signs of more recent and severe disturbance by cutting, including many multiple-stem oaks, roads and power line rights-of-way, and stumps.
Northern Red Oak
Delaware Forest
one of the larger specimens

PHOTO DYarrow 6/17/02

The topography here is not as extreme as the southern end of the ridge, with rolling hills instead of steep slopes. We encountered one very steep ravine, and two sinkholes—evidence of the "karst" type of limestone topography.

The herbaceous layer at ground level is extremely rich, both in species diversity, and the abundance and size of the plants. Numerous thick beds of Bloodroot were discovered. Spreading clumps of wild ginger were also present.

We did not have sufficient time on June 17 to visit the northern 100 acres of this forest. However, in the early 20th century, this section was owned by a mining company that quarried the limestone for building stone, and to grind and fire for cement.

Brief History of the Dispute
Ecology vs. Economy

In 1994, the City of Kingston Economic Development Office announced its intention to remove several acres of the southern ridgetop forest to erect a factory. The City filed a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).
White Pine
Delaware Forest
Kingston, New York

PHOTO DYarrow 6/17/02

Local citizens organized an effort to prevent this disturbance and destruction of the Delaware Avenue Forest. In 1995, a group of 14 Kingston citizens challenged the City's DEIS document in New York State court under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), charging the development would create segmentation of the site, that the site species inventory was incomplete, and construction would create water runoff polution. This lawsuit was denied by the lower court, so the citizens' group appealed in 1997, but met no better success.

The Knaust family that owns the mushroom caves under the south end of the ridge filed a federal lawsuit based on their belief the factory would create pollution of underground water.

Congressman Maurice Hinchey—with a strong environmental record as longtime chair of the NYS Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee—was caught in a political bind. Mr. Hinchey originally helped the City of Kingston get funding for this economic development project. This prior involvement made Mr. Hinchey reluctant to join the legal challenge, and also discouraged environmental groups from taking sides against the development.

Audubon Society and NYS DEC wildlife pathologist Ward Stone were most helpeful to the citizens' group. Unfortunately, Hudsonia came too late to help with the site species inventory, but the citizens's group lacked funding to finance a full-scale inventory. The Hudson River eco-activist group Clearwater did belatedly write a letter opposing the factory. Scenic Hudson, a non-profit river preservation organization headquartered in Poughkeepsie just downriver, was reluctant to oppose the ridgetop factory placement because they were afraid its defeat would lead to efforts to build industries on the shoreline itself.

The Earth Renewal and Restoration Alliancewww.championtrees.orgupdated 4/14/2003