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A visit to Northern New York's 350-year-old white pines

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The eastern white pine is native to North America. It can be found from Newfoundland to the Appalachian Mountains, but historically, it has been heavily logged. The Adirondack Park in northern New York is one of the few places that you can find giant and old white pines. North Country Public Radio's Amy Feiereisel takes us there, to a place called the Elder Grove.

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AMY FEIEREISEL, BYLINE: The Elder Grove is about a mile's walk from a tiny hamlet called Paul Smiths. An old logging road turns into an unmarked footpath that winds through meadows, mud and into woods.

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FEIEREISEL: I'm with two forestry professors from Paul Smith's College, Randall Swanson and Justin Waskiewicz. About halfway there, Waskiewicz stops at a big tree.

JUSTIN WASKIEWICZ: Look at it for a second. So this is a white pine. It's 3, 3 1/2 feet in diameter. It's probably 120 feet tall.

FEIEREISEL: He points out the many dead branches sticking out of the trunk.

WASKIEWICZ: First live branches are only up maybe 30 feet. You know, it's enormous, but it's probably only 120 years old.

FEIEREISEL: And where we're going, the white pines are three times that, about 350 years old. And Waskiewicz says they'll look different. We walk over a gentle rise, and the forest changes.

WASKIEWICZ: All right. So this brings us to the edge of the grove, and the trees in here were tagged and numbered. And I've got a little kind of hand-drawn map that somebody gave me.

FEIEREISEL: We head towards tree No. 101.

Oh, my goodness. It's huge.

The white pine seems to go up and up forever. Randall Swanson points out that this trunk is smooth.

RANDALL SWANSON: We're going up at least 80 feet before we see a branch.

FEIEREISEL: It's so high up, the crown of the tree looks small.

SWANSON: From the ground, that doesn't look like a huge crown, but that has to generate all the food to support all the rest of the living tissue in this tree.

FEIEREISEL: There are 50 of these ancient pines here. They germinated around 1665, and this stand is special because it exists. It escaped centuries of logging in the Northeast.

SWANSON: Which is really stunning, to think that they've been here longer than the country and all the...

WASKIEWICZ: Think of all the - like, imagine standing in the same place...

SWANSON: Yeah.

WASKIEWICZ: ...For 350 years.

FEIEREISEL: The trees have lightning-strike scars on their trunks. Their weathered gray bark looks almost like armor. The upper branches are gnarled from snapping and resprouting.

WASKIEWICZ: Imagine all the storms you would have to sit through, all the lightning strikes overhead, how scared you'd be sometimes, right? And they've done that.

FEIEREISEL: But in another 50 years, these pines will probably all be gone. They're aging out from height, from rot. There are already several trunks on the ground covered in moss and fungi. As they fall, the understory trees will take over - sugar maple, beech, yellow birch. It will become a different forest. For NPR News, I'm Amy Feiereisel in the Elder Grove in Paul Smiths.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Amy Feiereisel