First Survey Team Visit
Saturday, June 8, 2002
Team Leader: Fred Breglia
Assistant: David Yarrow
Data Sheet: June 8, 2002
The Eastern New York Survey Team visited Vroman's Nose for the first time on a beautiful, cloudless Saturday on June 8. Team Leader Fred Breglia had hiked and biked the site many times, and wanted to assess the dwarf red cedars on the summit, cliffs and talus slopes.
At 1:30pm we arrived at the home of Wally Van Houten, a retired high school science teacher and member of the Vroman's Nose Preservation Corporation who serves as Steward of the small mountain. Wally has lived on NY Route 30 across from the southeast corner of Vroman's Nose for 45 years, and he and his wife climb to its summit nearly five days each week. Wally described the geology and history of the site, and expressed his hope that our survey would confirm that the summit is a virgin forest. He also described some of the current problems of safeguarding the site from inconsiderate and thoughtless visitors.
34 Davies Lane
Cobleskill, NY 120
Wally Van Houten
Led by Wally, we climbed the green trail up the gradual north and west slopes to the summit. On the way up, we were delighted to meet Carl George, professor emeritus of ecology at Union College in Schenectady, and his wife on their way down. Professor George has assisted our surveys of Old Maids Woods and Reist Wildlife Sanctuary, and supported our survey team efforts in other ways.
On the lower north slope, we were impressed by the hemlocks, white pine and hardwoods growing along the trail. Many white pine were two feet—some nearly three feet—in diameter. Hemlock and sugar maple were up to and over two feet in diameter, and many chestnut oak and white oak were over a foot and approaching two feet in diameter. One chestnut oak immediately beside the trail was nearly three feet across, and several black birch and black cherry were of significant size. While there were numerous signs this forest had been cut in the 1800's, this could probably qualify as secondary old growth.
As we ascended in elevation, the species composition of the forest gradually changed. White pine, hemlock and sugar maple were replaced by pitch pine and hickory, and oaks increased in numbers. The size of trees decreased as the soil became thinner and drier. Rocky outcrops—especially of limestone—began to appear on the trail, forming natural stair steps.
Near the summit, maples, hemlock and white pine vanish, and the trees become definitely stunted, even dwarf, in form. At the summit, we saw a classic dwarf forest of knobby, lichen-covered trees characteristic of thin, poor, dry soils exposed to harsh extremes of weather. Dominant species were red cedar, chestnut oak, burr oak, pitch pine, and hickory.
Upon reaching the summit on the blue trail, the hiker immediately encounters the flat expanse of exposed Hamilton Sandstone known as "the dance floor," which extends to the edge of the southern cliffs, beyond which is a spectacular view of the middle and upper Schoharie Valley.
Fred Breglia confirmed that red cedars growing on the summit exceed the century mark. Ring counts of cross-sections cut from deadwood of cedars ranged from 175 to 240 years—less than hoped for, but still old enough to qualify as ancient.
Despite these trees exceeding the century mark, the survey team was disappointed by the age of the trees on the summit. Evidence suggests that the summit has most likely been severely disturbed by firewood cutting, thus depleting the population of ancient trees. So, while we couldn't confirm for Wally Van Houten that the summit was a virgin forest, we did demonstrate the presence of ancient trees.
Chris Cash and Howard Stoner left the summit to explore the talus slopes below the south-facing cliffs. Perhaps there would be less disturbance of these trees that are more difficult to access, and more trees of greater age.
On steep south slopes
The Earth Restoration and Reforestation Alliance — www.championtrees.org — updated 4/14/2003