The Regional Review

Volume VII - Nos. 1 & 2

July-August, 1941



Raccoon Creek Recreational Demonstration Area is one of many moderate sized park areas now being developed by the National Park Service. Its 5,033 acres are located twenty-eight miles west of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and comprise the watershed of one of the small tributaries to the Ohio River. There, thousands of people from nearby tense, drab, smoke-laden industrial centers find the restoration of spirit which is inspired by contact with the processes of unhurried nature.

The broad gentle slopes on the western edge of the Appalachian plateau were divided into farms

At the time of its acquisition the area had been ravished many times by man. It lay over the great Pittsburg coal bed. The broad gentle slopes of this area on the western edge of the Appalachian plateau were divided into farms. These farms were worked until their fertility wads sapped and economic change caused their abandonment. For years, except for spasmodic grazing, many abandoned fields lay idle with an incomplete and thinning vegetation of such plants, as poverty grass and briars. There were few trees. The forest stands were largely the heavy-seeded species, on the steep valley slopes and did not extend into the fields. The forests were slashed for their small pit-posts for temporary use in the mines.

Even now, in the vicinity of this park, irregular mounds and gashes in the earth are being made over an expanding area. Surface coal-mining is being accelerated and extended until all about, as Stuart Chase stated in Rich Land, Poor Land, "The skin of America has been lain open."

young tree
Trees native to the section were chosen

Two thirds of the park itself consisted of abandoned fields. The question should they not be restored to forest brought an immediate affirmative answer from all of those interested in development of the area. A preliminary study of the area in the spring and summer of 1937 emphasized the need for restoration of forest cover. Vegetation was not properly healing the scars in the fields. Sheet erosion was evidenced by the silt and clay carried by streams after heavy rains. The streams dwindled to mere trickles during the summer. Fishing was poor. Wildlife was neither abundant nor varied and the larger animals were not present. The experts said that the esthetic background for recreation could be improved by an increase in the acreage and variety of forest.

The preparation of this first restoration plan involved the collection and study of several types of information. A student forester from Pennsylvania State College sampled and studied the composition of the wooded portions of the area. Soil samples from representative sites, were analyzed by the Department of Agronomy at Pennsylvania State College. Although much of the fertile top soil had been gradually washed away, these analyses indicated the presence of enough plant foods to grow trees, but generally not enough to grow farm crops. Weather records were examined. With this basic information it was possible to prepare detail ed planting plans for the various sites.

At this point certain decisions had to be made. What type of planting should be done? The objectives did not include the production of commercial timber. There was e need, instead, to protect watersheds and improve the beauty of the park. There was a need to restore depleted soils. To serve these needs any type of forest cover in natural arrangement would perhaps also supply the other deficiencies which were observed. Consequently, the objective decided upon was the establishment of native forest stands - containing a large number of shrub-bordered openings of the same composition which would occur by natural regeneration.

From this point the planning proceeded rapidly and smoothly. Using as a guide the presence of species in existing woodlands on the area and the forest type descriptions published by the Society of American Foresters, the planners listed the composition of each mixture to be used. An example of the detailed plan of type composition, as it appears in the plan, follows:


Symbol: So-Bo
Color: Yellow
Site: Dry ridges, southern and western slopes

Composition Scarlet oak, Quercus coccines
Black oak, Quercus velutina
White oak, Quercus alba
Hicories, Hicoria species
Pitch pine, Pinus rigida
Black gum, Nyssa sylvatica
Black locust, Robinia pseudoacacia
Sourwood, Oxydendron arboreum
Dogwood, Cornus florida.

In this type scarlet oak and black oak comprise more than fifty per cent of the seedlings established by planting or seed spotting. The balance of the species are used in varying proportions. On the dry southern and western slopes the type described above is considered climax. But much of the area needed improvement of the soil and moisture relations before climax species could be expected to do well. On such sites black locust serves as a nurse crop and comprised ninety percent of the 1,100 seedlings per acre. The remaining ten per cent are of species which are expected eventually to occupy the area. This ten percent, composed of all type species in the proportion assigned in the detailed plan is the future source of seed. The representation of any native species in the ultimate stand is of less importance than the establishment of a natural association relatively immune to widespread epidemic attack by insects or disease. On badly eroded slopes black locust is planted very thickly.

By the spring of 1938 the planning was complete except for certain refinements. While the plans were being prepared National Park Service officials secured cooperation of the Soil Conservation Service and the Pennsylvania Department of Forests and Waters in providing seedling trees for planting during the spring of 1938. A one-acre temporary nursery was established for growing planting stock of species not commonly available. The need for this nursery is shown by the fact that nursery stock available did not include all of the species in any of the mixtures to be used.

eroded hillside
The skin of the earth had been laid open

The forester and the project superintendent of the Civilian Conservation Corps camp of veterans which is doing this work were busy men during that first spring when nearly a million seedlings were planted. Supervising the digging of a large quantity of seedlings at a distant nursery, training and supervising an entire CCC camp in a new type of work, establishing a nursery, all within a period of a few weeks, was an overtime job. At the peak of activity a WPA crew was also employed in order to get the seedlings in the ground before the hot, dry weather of summer.

To date approximately two million seedlings have been planted. The program has been quite successful. The forester observes that nine out of each ten planted seedlings are successfully established. To one who was familiar with the area before this work was started a number of improvements are apparent. Vegetation is now healing the scars. Erosion has been decreased and will progressively diminish as the growth of established forest stands provide full overhead shade, a ground cover of leaves, and a surface layer of soil teeming with worms and other small organisms which cultivate the soil and transform it into a sponge.

Although there is at present no noticeable effect on stream levels, this spongy cover of leaves, leaf mold, and dark humus-filled topsoil which is replacing the heavy clay will absorb much of the rain-water that formerly sped to the brimming Ohio River, with its added burden of silt. This stored water, gradually released through the cool, underground channels in the forest, will not only stabilize the stream-flow; it will help lower temperatures of streams so that the sporting, native speckled trout may again delight the fisherman.

The established forests studded with sheltered openings bordered by native shrubs bearing food will afford havens for wild creatures. The white flag of the startled deer, the noiseless motion of the grateful fox will delight the eye; the mad scramble and noisy chatter of the disturbed squirrel, the pure sweet melody of the bob-white's call in the early morning sun will enchant the ear. The esthetic background shows some improvement now. Fields formerly partly brown and shimmering with heat on a clear summer day are now clothed in green of varying shades. Winter's snow bring into sharp relief the evergreen pines whose shade will retard its melting. In spring the hiker may travel through a variety of fragrant forest, glades, and dells.

Progress has been good but the work is far from complete. Skillful planning is now required to fill in the details of the broad foundation which has been laid. Nature will add the final touches and provide the miraculous succession of vegetative types which will reach the climax successfully if protected from the abuse which is being heaped upon the surrounding land. By contract with the progressive desecration of the productive coal field in which it lies, Raccoon Creek Recreational Demonstration Area will improve as the need for recreation increases.

Recently the American Forestry Association published a report on the big trees of America, and listed the largest trees of 102 species. Of the trees recorded, 64 were located in Region One. One of the largest trees listed for the east was the Bald Cypress near Sanford, Florida. This forest giant was said to have a circumference of 42 feet at 4-1/2 feet above the ground and to be 126 feet in height.

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Date: 04-Jul-2002