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Fernow Forest

from Tupper Lake Crossroads of the Adirondacks

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Location Map  |  Fernow Forest  |  Home to Tupper Lake


   Welcome to the Fernow Forest Self-Guided Nature Trail. This is a one-half mile loop trail that winds through lands which were formerly part of Cornell University’s Demonstration forest. As you walk this trail you will learn more about Bernhard Fernow and his forest. PLEASE SIGN THE REGISTER. It helps us to determine how much the trail is being used. Make reservations at the Wawbeek for overnight stays and dinners. Relax at the Wawbeek for fine food and spectacular views of Upper Saranac Lake.  

1. Northern Hardwood Forest

    You have been walking through a northern hardwood forest consisting of sugar maples (A), yellow birch (B), and American beech (C). Bernhard Fernow, a pioneer in the development of professional forestry in this country, hoped to demonstrate that forests of hardwoods could successfully be converted to forests of pine and spruce. At the time of Fernow’s experiment (1900) the commercial value of pine and spruce greatly exceeded that of the decadent hardwoods left following earlier harvesting operations. Was Fernow’s experiment a success? Walk on to visit the results and to learn more about Fernow.

2. Entering Fernows Forest

    This is the beginning of the Fernow Forest evidenced by a sudden change from hardwoods(trees with broad leaves) to softwoods(trees with needles).

    The white pine and Norway spruce in Fernow’s plantation were raised to seedling size in a nearby tree nursery. They were then shipped to this site and planted six feet apart with pine and spruce in alternating rows.

    This forest has been protected from fire, but there have been no other management activities performed such as thinning and pruning.

3. Fernow’s Story

    The plaque on this boulder was presented by the New York Society of American Foresters to honor Bernhard E. Fernow, who established this plantation of conifers.

    Fernow was born in Prussia and came to this country in 1876. In those days, forestry was an unknown profession in America and he made many contributions to its growth. He helped organize forestry colleges and draft legislation that established the Forest Preserve in New York State in 1885. He also served as Chief of the Division of Forestry of the United States, a forerunner of the present U.S. Forest Service.

    In 1898, Fernow organized and became director of the first professional forestry school in the United States, the College of Forestry at Cornell University. When the state legislature established the college, they also dedicated 30,000 acres of land in the Adirondacks as an experimental and demonstration forest.

    On this 68-acre portion of that land, Fernow set out to convert a deteriorating hardwood forest to a more valuable coniferous forest. Fernow clear-cut the existing hardwoods and sold what he could to the Brooklyn Cooperage Company in nearby Tupper Lake. The remaining trees and brush were burned to prepare a suitable cleared area for his plantation of pine and spruce seedlings.

    Unfortunately, Fernow did not consider the impact of his experiment on some influential owners of camps and estates on Upper Saranac Lake, just a short distance away.. These people saw the smoke and viewed the fires as a threat to their valuable lake front properties. They complained to state officials and, as a direct result in 1903, the governor vetoed state funding for Cornell’s College of Forestry. A new State College of Forestry was established at its present location in Syracuse. Fernow was not associated with it. Had it not been for his experimental forestry work here, the College of Forestry would probably still be located at Cornell.

4. The Norway Spruce

    Fernow selected the Norway spruce as one of the first tree species to be planted. This spruce, one of the largest on the trail has diameter of 26 inches. In choosing a major European timber tree, Fernow passed up the native red spruce, which grows well in the Adirondacks. Perhaps he did not know the red spruce well enough, or perhaps he felt more comfortable with a "friend" from the old country.

    Look for the large, oblong 4-7 inch cones along the trail. They have been gnawed from Norway spruce branches by red squirrels. A distinguishing characteristic of the Norway spruce is the small dropping branchlet that hang from the main branches.

5. The Eastern White Pine

Look up at this fine example of a white pine. Notice the needles that look like tufts of feathers and observe the general shape of the mature crown. The tree has a diameter of 31 inches.

Fernow selected white pine for planting because it was and still is the principal softwood timber tree of the northeast. It grows quickly and easily becomes a dominant tree in our forest.

It commonly attains 100+ feet in height and 4 feet in diameter, living an average of two hundred years.

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6. An Enemy of White Pine

    White Pine Blister Rust is causing many of the pine to die in this plantation prematurely. (Please step forward to Station 6A). The tree labeled "A" has succumbed to this disease while tree "B" has an active fungal canker.

    Blister Rust starts with a spore that is produced in the spring by a fungus growing on a white pine. Wind carries this spore to a gooseberry or current plant.

    In the fall an infectious spore emerges from the gooseberry or current and, carried by wind, enter a needle of a white pine. From the needle, the fungus spreads down the twig, along the branch and into the trunk of the tree. Eventually, the girdling canker blocks the movement of manufactured food from the leaves down the trunk of the tree, thereby killing it.

7. White Pine Weevil

    Although white pine is the most common host for this insect pest, Norway spruce is also frequently attacked. While only 7mm long, this insect is capable of severely impacting the commercial and aesthetic potential of trees. By attacking and killing the uppermost tip of the main stem (leader) the weevil seriously affects tree form. The dead leader is replaced by one or more of the lateral branches which turn upward resulting on a crooked or forked stem. Beyond this post you will find a white pine (A) and a Norway spruce (B) that have been "weeviled." Can you find others?

8. Private Land

    You have been walking on Forest Preserve land owned by the people of the State of New York. Beyond this post is a private forest of northern hardwoods. Please respect private land, stay on the trail.

9. Where Did These Two Red Pines Come From

   In front of you are two trees with reddish, flaky bark ("A" and "B"). These are red pine. Notice their needles, which are longer and coarser than those of the white pine. A few red pines seeds probably were planted accidentally along with the white pine seeds in the nursery beds. The resulting seedlings were planted here by Fernow.

10. Cycle of Life

    Without some means of being returned to the soil, dead animals, leaves, twigs, and trunks of trees would soon accumulate into layers and heaps of undecomposed matter. Eventually, life in the forest would cease. Because of the decaying action of bacteria and fungi, organic matter with its valuable minerals is returned to the soil. Orderly decomposition of organic material on the forest floor builds what is called humus. Humus is the organic portion of the soil which serves as a kind of storehouse from which future generations of forest organisms can draw the nutrients necessary for growth. The tree laying on the ground in front of this post is undergoing this process. At some point, all the nutrients trapped in its woody tissues will be returned to the soil and recycled into the next generations of trees.

11. Boulders Carried By Ice

    These boulders or "glacial erratics" are scattered throughout the forest. They are very old and many are covered with mosses and ferns. Some boulders even have trees growing on top of them.

    About 1.3 billion years ago, these boulders were 15 miles beneath the earth’s surface, where very high pressure and temperature changed their texture and composition. Rock changed in this fashion is called metamorphic.

    Natural forces which created the Adirondack mountains also pushed these boulders to the earth’s surface. The most recent glacier (10,000 years ago) moved them to this location. In the Adirondacks, even the rocks get around, but it takes an awfully long time.

12. Signs of Squirrels

    By now, you may have heard the chatter or "scolding" of a red squirrel. They like to eat the seeds from the cones of Norway spruce. Look for piles of cones called "a cache." They have been gathered by red squirrels. Observe debris from cones at the bases of the trees, where squirrels have pulled the cones apart to get at the seeds. With luck, you might see one of these sly, reddish-brown squirrels scurrying along the top of a log or up a tree trunk.

13. Two Old Pioneers

    Quaking aspen (A) and white birch (B) are called pioneer species because they are frequently among the first trees to regenerate after a disturbance such as a forest fire. They do well in direct sunlight and provide shade in which other species of trees can grow. The seeds for these two trees probably blew in from the nearby hardwood forest and sprouted at the same time that pine and spruce seedling were planted. As the spruce and pine grew up, these aspen and birch were able to keep up with them and developed into two healthy trees. With an average life span of 80 years, this aspen and birch have reached old age and have begun to decline.

14. Natural Selection

    As forest trees develop in close proximity to one another, they compete for the same necessities of life: sunlight, water and soil nutrients. In order to survive, they must continually expand and take up more growing space crowding out lesser individuals. Trees less able to compete begin to decline, their crowns weaken and diameter growth slows. As trees lose vigor they become less able to survive stresses imposed by diseases, insects and climatic extremes eventually leading to mortality.

15. The Rest of the Story

    Fernow’s experiment on this plot of land was a mile-stone in forestry in the United States. Although he was unable to carry on with management of the plantation, he proved that it was possible to convert a hardwood forest to a coniferous plantation. The experiment cost him dearly, since he lost his job with when Cornell closed the College of Forestry.

    Fernow continued to work for the recognition of forestry as a profession in the United States, and is now honored as one of our nations pioneers in forest management. As a tribute to Fernow, a building on the Cornell campus was named for him and this pine and spruce forest, which he began, is a particularly appropriate memorial to Fernow.

    It’s unfortunate that those who judged Bernhard Fernow and his work could not walk through his forest to see the fruits of his efforts. Maybe today they would feel differently about a forester named Bernhard Fernow.

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