Canaan Cone Collecting - Part II

Or, Cones, Cones, and More Cones

By Dave Saville

We met at Shot Cherry Cabin on Friday evening, August 18th. Mike Breiding was first to arrive, by now a seasoned cone collector. This weekend Betsy came along with him. I met Bob Churby at Cheat Lake, and we arrived at the Cabin just at dusk. Rain fell during the whole trip, sometimes heavy. Frank and Barb Slider and friend Ann Dillaman pulled up right behind us.

After a good breakfast, we headed down the mountain to Bartow and met Peter Shoenfeld, Bill Hitt, Bill Grauer and Matt Mongin. We drove up Cheat Mountain to the work site. This day we would be picking balsam fir cones from trees in the southernmost natural stand of balsam on the continent located at Cheat Bridge on the Upper Shavers Fork of Cheat River. When we arrived we were met by West Virginia Native Plants Society members Chris Gatens and Kevin Campbell. We got right to work getting the ladders off the truck and into the woods. Arming ourselves with gloves, sacks, clipboards with data sheets, and tags, what we found was lots of water. Although sunny at the time, it had rained for 2 days prior to our arrival. Compounding the problem, beavers had moved in and built new dams making Blister Run difficult to ford. There was good reason to call this place Blister Run Swamp today. We didnít waste any time in getting the ladders up into the closest trees. Although several trees had cones in them, they were not as numerous as what we had found in Canaan Valley. This meant we would need to get up into many trees in order to collect a significant amount of seed. Bob Churby and I went on a reconnaissance mission to locate accessible trees with cones. We use 40 foot extension ladders, but because of the height of these trees, and the fact that the cones are located in the very top of the tree, most had cones that were out of reach. Several of the workers took a break and set up a great lunch buffet in the shade of a CCC red pine plantation.

By 3:30 PM, we had depleted our energy so we began to pack up the equipment and get the trucks loaded up. Having climbed over 50 trees, we were successful in collecting over 3 bushels of cones. After stopping by the Cheat Mountain club for a quick visit with Jason and Carl, we arrived back at Shot Cherry Cabin about 5 PM, and had enough time to clean up before heading "out to dinner." The Mountain Instituteís Spruce Mountain Campus is just 2 miles down the road, and Alton, Marcie and Ryan had invited us to join them during their Family Weekend for dinner. We arrived at the campus to find parents constructing bat boxes with their kids. Wonderful smells were coming from the kitchen where Natalie and Brent were busy preparing the meal. We cone pickers mingled with the families and helped put the finishing touches on the bat boxes. After dinner everyone gathered in the main classroom where I presented a talk about our balsam fir conservation project. We headed back to Shot Cherry Cabin and it wasn't long before "lights out."

On Sunday, a few of us met at the Pigs Ear, and joined Alton Byers from the Mountain Institute and Rod Bartgis of The Nature Conservancy and collected cones from a few trees at Blister Swamp on the Dalen Farm. We had a great afternoon as Rodney led a tour of the swamp and itís many unique features. Some of us stayed at the house and enjoyed talking with Sugar and John. Our cone collecting endeavors are now complete.

Our goal was to collect cones from as many stands of balsam fir from around the state as possible, thus protecting any genetic diversity that exists within the sub-species. We were successful in getting seed from 11 separate stands within itís 50 mile range. We collected cones from every major stand of fir except the one on Big Stonecoal Run of Red Creek. We did enjoy a warm, welcome and appreciative relationship with the US Fish and Wildlife Service for gathering cones on the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Canaan Valley State Park folks were very cooperative in giving us access to the fir trees there. In addition, On August 18 we were allowed access to trees by Ryan Bidwell and several other private property owners. Mission accomplished! Greenbrier District Ranger, Ken Rago issued a limited permit to collect seed at Blister Run.

The Natural Resource Conservation Service is now undertaking the seed extraction, stratification, and germination procedure for some seed, and will seed bank the rest.