if yer not forest,
yer against us

Old Maids Woods
Schermerhorn Road, Schenectady, New York

Old Maids' Woods is a 21-acre patch of nearly forgotten forest owned by the City of Schenectady and managed by The Nature Conservancy, with towering hemlocks, oaks and pines. Many of its black oaks are very tall and impressive. These woods are an odd fragment of land and nature that was sliced up and cut off in a quiet backwash along the Mohawk River west of Schenectady.
PHOTO DYarrow 12/22/01
Old Maids' Woods
hiking the terrace trail to the crest

Old Maids' Woods is easily visible from I-890 west of Schenectady, but difficult to locate, yet easily accessible. This small forest is squeezed on steep slopes and the summit of an alluvial terrace south of the Mohawk River, between I-890 on the north, and the railroad to the south.

Old Maids' Woods are a triangular tract west of Schermerhorn Road, before it bends east to climb steeply out of the Mohawk Valley, and south of an access road to a Niagara Mohawk substation. On its southwest edge, the Woods is boundaried by busy railroad tracks. Boxed in by the interstate highway and the railroad, the Woods are isolated, contributing to their undisturbed state.

Old Maids' Woods was named for the two unmarried daughters of one of the area's earliest settlers—a farmer named Schermerhorn. The daughters inherited the farm, and kept the tract as a woodlot, and never had the land logged for timber like the surrounding lands.
Directions to
Old Maids' Woods
  • Take I-890 (east or west) to Exit 2A/B Campbell Road / Rice Road
  • Take Rice Road west past the sewage facility to Schermerhorn Road
  • Turn left onto Schermerhorn Road; cross under I-890
  • A hundred feet further, a chain link gate on the right blocks a Niagara Mohawk access road
  • Park in front of the gate, then walk past it, 50 feet west up the access road
  • A trail entering the woods on the left leads to a Nature Conservancy guestbook sign-in box
  • Old Maids' Woods are further west, up the steep slope and level summit.
  • Eventually, the City of Schenectady acquired the property, which has been maintained as a nature preserve since. Consequently, the forest has suffered very little human disturbance in the last two centuries, and there are many very ancient trees on the site. The presence of a few Red Maple, Black Locust and Pitch Pine indicate some human disturbance, but of a minimal nature.

    First Survey Team Visit
    December 1, 2001

    Team Leader: Fred Breglia
    Assistant: David Yarrow
    Data Sheet
    Old Maids' Woods
    looking back down from the trail crest

    PHOTO DYarrow 12/22/01

    The survey team visited the site late in the afternoon of December 1, and studied the site until after dark. From the access road, the site is unimpressive and badly disturbed, with a tangle of young, unhealthy trees, including a few apple trees. The indications are that any valuable timber trees on relatively level land easily accessed from the road were harvested a few decades ago. But the upper edge of Old Maids' Woods—on the steep slopes and the flat summit above—are a different story.

    The consensus of the team was this patch of forest—although small—is a real gem, containing many remarkable specimen trees. Although Eastern Hemlock dominates the stand, there is a healthy diversity of sixteen other species, including three types of oaks and many less common ones, such as Striped Maple, and even two American Chestnut. Most of the large trees have grown cleanly straight and vertical, commonly reaching over 100 feet tall. Age estimates based on girth measurements suggest these specimens are 165 to 250 years old.
    Black Oak
    looking up into the crown

    PHOTO DYarrow 12/22/01

    Bob Leverett (coordinator, Eastern Native Tree Society) and Neil Pederson (Tree Ring Laboratory, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Palisades) both were excited by the Woods' Black Oak trees, calling it "one of the best Black Oak stands in the Northeast." A tree ring core from one black oak was dated at 225 years. The largest was estimated to be over 250 years old.

    In addition to the Black Oak just mentioned, two Pitch Pine were cored with an increment borer. One yielded 220 rings. The other Pitrch Pined was a reather narrow specimen, yet revealed a remarkable count of 206 rings, which were very even and uniform in their thickness and distribution.
    Black Oak
    Linda Champagne, Fred Breglia
    & Carl George admire the largest

    PHOTO DYarrow 12/22/01

    Another surprise in Old Maids' Woods were the Black Locust. Bob Leverett measured several over 100 feet tall, including one 126 foot specimen that is the tallest in the Northeast. Becacuse they are growing in a forest environment, the trees don't have much girth, and so don't qualify as champions, but their height is astonishing.

    Second Survey Team Visit
    December 20, 2001

    Team Leader: Fred Breglia
    Assistant: David Yarrow

    Saturday morning, December 22, Fred Breglia (arborist at Landis Arboretum), Carl George (Union College professor emeritus of ecology), Linda Champagne (Niskayuna historian), and David Yarrow (Coordinator, NY Champion Tree Project) returned to Old Maids' Woods for further survey work. The morning was brightly sunny, but very cold, with temperature in the 20s.
    Pitch Pine cookie
    187 rings
    note fire damage across the heartwood

    PHOTO DYarrow 12/22/01

    Fred sliced several cookies from a pitch pine that had fallen across the main trail. The core of the tree had been split open and charred on its inner surfaces by a catastrophic event in its early years—either a fire or lightning strike. The tree recovered and successfully encapsulated this wound, and continued growing rather vigoursly. Fred counted 187 rings in the cookie. This cookie was taken 26 feet above the tree's base, so, by extrapolation, the tree was at least 210 years old. Small ferns were already growing on the trunk, and Carl George indicated the tree had been down at least four years.

    Fred Breglia cored a rather slender Red Pine (5 foot 3 inch circumference) with his increment borer. The core revealed a ring count of 115 years, with a remarkably uniform thickness to the rings.

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