Great Mountain Forest (GMF) occupies slightly
more than 6,000 acres at the southern end of the
Berkshires, in northwest Connecticut. The forest
was under private conservation and management for nearly a century, but a decade ago it
became a nonprofit and operates under a Forest
Legacy easement. I’m the director, and my job is
to engage the public with both the work and the
forest’s story. Forestry decisions are the purview
of our forest manager of 38 years, Jody Bronson.
Our roles increasingly overlap, as we must not
only make the best management choices for
[ STEWARDSHIP STORY ]
Managing Ecological Change in a
Nonprofit Working Woodland
the forest, but also educate the public about the
actions we are taking.
Perhaps the best example of this centers
around GMF’s hemlocks. Hemlock makes up
about 40 percent of Great Mountain Forest (mixed
with oak in some stands and with other hardwoods elsewhere), including a handful of very old
hemlocks in the forest, and there are a few more
on Nature Conservancy land adjoining. There is
a coolness and quietness to all hemlock groves,
but these old trees have a palpable gravitas.
Researchers in the 1950s dated many of these
hemlocks to the 1600s, and a few proved to
have been saplings when the Pilgrims landed at
Plymouth in 1620.
Nothing about them leaps out at you as being
ancient – nearby there are much younger trees of
other species that are as tall and broad – yet you
don’t need an increment borer to know that they
were well established before the first European
reached these woods in the mid-1700s. Their
heavy, plated bark is the giveaway. So is the
sense of grandeur that settles on you if you spend
a little time beneath them.
It’s something of a mystery that these stands
survived as long as they have. Northern Litchfield
County was at the heart of nineteenth-century
iron production, and most of the forests in Norfolk
and Canaan were cut several times to produce
charcoal for local blast furnaces. There are old
colliers’ hearths and roads within a quarter-mile
Forest stewards and scientists with a downed old-growth hemlock. From left to right, Jody Bronson, Hans Carlson,
Carole Cheah, Russell Russ, forest technician Wesley Gomez, and John Winiarski.