While driving down to the Keystone Trail Association’s Fall Meeting, I decided to stop at the Hemlocks Natural Area for a quick hike. The natural area covers 120 acres and is located in the Tuscarora State Forest. It is home to an old-growth hemlock forest, with some trees over 130 feet tall and hundreds of years old. There are also large tulip trees, black gum, oaks, and basswood trees. It was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1972 due to both its old growth forest, and since it has a northern hardwood forest among a southern hardwood forest of oak and hickory. Sadly, many of the large hemlocks have died from the invasive woolly adelgid, a tiny insect that sucks the sap out of the trees. Towering, gray, dead hemlock trunks tower into canopy. Since many hemlocks have died, more sunlight now reaches the forest floor allowing for the explosive growth of saplings that have inundated the trails. However, there are many large hemlocks still alive. Apparently, there is an effort to save the remaining hemlocks with the release of a beetle that preys on the adelgid.
The natural area is located in a small glen carved by Patterson Run. There is a short system of trails, but they are not in very good condition. Regardless, the natural area was worth the visit. The remaining old growth trees are impressive in size. However, I couldn’t but help to think how spectacular this forest must have been in the 1980s, prior to the arrival of the adelgid- the massive, green hemlocks blocking out the sun, creating a dark, primeval forest carpeted with moss.