There has been quite a flare up of emotions in these parts lately over plans to cut trees near the Keene Dillant Hopkins airport. The airport isn’t in Keene, it’s actually in Swanzey which is south of Keene, and it is near a fine neighborhood called Edgewood. The Federal Aviation Administration says that the trees have to go for safety reasons, but Edgewood residents are concerned about the increased airport noise and lower property values, among other things. The above photo is of an old, large Norway spruce which was cut recently. One of the first of many.
This is an old neighborhood; Keene’s first settlers landed very near here and called the place the “Nine Lot Plain.” The town history of Keene says that “On July 3, 1875, the Keene Driving Park Association opened a fair grounds, which included a half-mile horse trotting course and a grandstand that seated 1,500. It was a center for many Keene activities until about 1900. The Park Corporation laid out streets for a development here in 1913.” That development became Edgewood and, as the sign in the above photo attests, the Edgewood Civic Association donated part of the land to the city of Keene. It is forested and is home to many plants, birds and animals that aren’t easily seen in this area. Some are rare and some are endangered.
Oddly Albert Proell, manager of the Keene Forestry Association, was allowed to start a tree plantation here in 1906 on unused land. Trees, chiefly Scot pine and Norway spruce, were grown from seed to be used in reforestation projects. The spruce trees have done well but the Scot pines have not; neither the soil nor climate is right for them. Many of the spruce trees are still here and, as the above photo shows, are tall but have no girth because they were meant to be transplanted into other areas, not allowed to reach full size. They are too close together and cast such deep shade that nothing but a few mosses and fungi will grow beneath them. The larger spruce trees in this part of the forest are about 40 years old, but still more poles than trees.
A 1920s look at the tree nursery started in 1906 by Albert Proell, on some of the abandoned agricultural land in the Keene Driving Park. The nursery is thought to be the first and one of the largest of its kind. It was about 5 acres in size.
But not all of the trees here were planted. In fact most of them weren’t and some have been here for a very long time, as the white pine (Pinus strobus) in the above photo shows. Mature white pines can be 200–250 years old, and some live to be over 400 years old. According to the Native Tree Society white pines can reach 188 feet tall, but pre-colonial stands were said to have been as tall as 230 feet. In any case they’re our tallest native tree, and I suspect that most of the trees slated to be cut will be white pines. I put a glove on my monopod to give you an idea of the size of this example, which by far isn’t the largest I’ve seen.
Marking has begun but this is a Norway spruce that stands in the old plantation, and these trees aren’t supposed to be cut. Maybe the tape means “don’t cut,” I don’t know. How ironic that the non-native trees that have created what is almost a sterile monoculture are the ones that will be saved.
This section of forest still contains a lot of Scot pine but they don’t have any real vigor and many native trees like white pine, birch, maple, oak, and hemlock have moved into what was once part of the old nursery. There are many trails through this forest and walking them is an enjoyable experience for many, including myself. I don’t get too excited about cutting a few trees; in truth responsible management is good for a forest and the wildlife that lives there, but in this case I do worry about the impact that the tree cutting will have on the plants that grow here, the people who live here, and others who use this forest daily. There is something to be said for the quality of life, after all.
This map shows the two runways of the Keene Dillant Hopkins Airport on the left, and in the upper left corner is the Edgewood forest, marked “Edgewood Civic Association Parcel,” so you can see how close the forest and neighborhood are to the airport. The land that is now the airport was originally purchased in 1942 and the airport opened on in 1943. In 1967 the FAA recommended a 1.8 million dollar series of improvements which included further extending the runways, the construction of a control tower, and improvements to buildings. But before the airport was here, before Edgewood was here, Native American Squakheag tribes lived on this land for many thousands of years. Archeological digs in the area have found Native sites that date back 10,500 years; some of the oldest in the country.
In 1912 Keene’s first airplane took off from the driving park fair grounds and quickly landed in the top of a nearby tree. How’s that for irony?
There are extensive wetlands on the airport property and many threatened and imperiled species live in them, including the grasshopper sparrow, the northern leopard frog, the horned lark, the vesper sparrow, the eastern meadowlark, the northern long-eared bat, and the wood turtle. Some species have a rating of “imperiled at a global and statewide level,” including the spot-winged glider and the marsh wren. All have been spotted within a mile of the airport. Rare plants include the endangered long-headed windflower (Anemone cylindrica,) and the uncommon swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor) which I haven’t found yet.
Skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) also grow in the wetlands here, and though I can’t speak for their rarity this is the only place I’ve ever seen them, and I’ve covered a lot of ground in my time.
This forest is one of only two places where I’ve found our beautiful native roseshell azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum) growing. Luckily, I think it lives in a section where trees won’t be cut. At least I hope so. Plants grow where they do because that’s where they find the optimum levels of light, moisture and nutrients, and cutting the trees above them can cause serious changes in what they’re accustomed to.
Beautiful little three leaf goldthread (Coptis trifolia) grows in quite a large colony here, but this plant was once nearly collected into oblivion and I’d hate to see them disturbed. Native Americans chewed the roots of goldthread to treat canker sores, which is why the plant is also called canker root. The natives shared the plant with the English settlers and it became such a popular medicine that by 1785 the Shakers were paying 37 cents per pound for it dried, which meant people dug up all they could find. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other native plant.
One of our most beautiful wild orchids, the pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule,) also grows here in abundance. It is also New Hampshire’s state wildflower. This plant interacts with a Rhizoctonia fungus in the soil and this fungus must be present for it to reproduce. Pink lady’s-slippers are listed as “special concern” under the Native Plant Protection Act. I hope there won’t be any tree cutting in this area.
So far I have found just a single example of another of our beautiful orchids here. I don’t think that downy rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens) could be called rare but it is hard to find and I hope the single example I know of in this forest won’t be run over by a logging skidder.
One flowered pyrola (Moneses uniflora) is quite rare; the two plants in this photo are the only examples that I’ve ever seen. This plant is also called one flowered wintergreen and single delight. It is found in dry, cool, undisturbed forests and was used by Native Americans as a cold remedy, and to reduce swelling and ease pain. I found these plants in Edgewood forest in 2014 but then lost them and haven’t been able to find them again since, even though I know the general area they grew in.
The fragrant blossoms of trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) were once so popular that the plant was collected nearly to the point of extinction in New England by street vendors, who would then sell its flowers in “posies.” In many states it is today protected by law thanks to the efforts of what is now the New England Wildflower Society. There are at least two colonies of this plant in Edgewood forest and I hope they aren’t disturbed because, according to the Virginia Native Plant Society, “trailing arbutus is very intolerant of habitat disturbance in any form, including fire, logging, grazing, and housing development, and serious deer overpopulation is wiping out many old colonies. Many reports say that trailing arbutus does not return following disturbance. Sites are easily destroyed when disturbed by man or livestock and seldom recover.”
Another rarity in this forest is striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata.) I’ve found 5 or 6 examples here, all growing in the same general area. Striped wintergreen has a symbiotic relationship with the mycelium of certain fungi in the soil and is partially parasitic on them through a process called myco-heterotrophy. This means that, even though they photosynthesize, they supplement their diet with nutrients taken from fungi. That explains why they will only grow in certain places, much like our native orchids. It also explains their rarity. I read recently that the plant is considered rare in both New England and Canada. I’ve also read that it won’t grow on land that has been disturbed in the last 100 years.
False morel mushrooms (Gyromitra esculenta) also grow here, and this is the only place that I’ve ever seen them. I wonder if they have any relationships with the surrounding plants and trees. They grow very close to both trailing arbutus and several hardwood species of tree.
A forest isn’t only about the trees and the plants that grow around them; what about all of the things that grow in the trees, like this beard lichen (Usnea)? This is something I don’t think people who cut trees spend much time thinking about, but cutting a tree affects far more than just the tree.
In the end it really doesn’t matter what anyone thinks; the powers that be have spoken and the trees will be cut, but there are different ways to manage tree cutting in a forest. One way is to simply drive a huge log skidder right through it without a thought or care about what is being damaged. That way was used across town on the flanks of Mount Caesar a few years ago and the scars left behind will never fully heal. But there is another way, and that way includes care for the surrounding landscape and consideration for the wildlife and people who are being affected. Nobody wants to see a plane hit a tree, but neither do the people who know this forest intimately want to see it destroyed.
When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. ~John Muir
All photos of flowering plants were taken previously.
Thanks for coming by.