By Jesse Rock, VIC Summer Naturalist
It was in an early morning dendrology class that I had first heard of the legendary grove of white pines (Pinus strobus) known as the Elder’s Grove. To be fully honest, I initially took minimal interest as I had seen large pines before and assumed that these would most likely be of the same type. While they were probably still beautiful trees, 150-year-old pines are not very uncommon and not necessarily worth the trip.
Without any immediate change to my initial assumptions, I began to mentally drift to an upcoming quiz in my next class along with the assignments that were due during the following week. However, as my ears danced around the professor’s description of this plot of trees and my mind continued to ramble, my attention was suddenly recaptured as I realized how fitting the name Elder’s Grove truly was. These trees were not merely century-old samples but instead, they are living legends from a time all but lost in NY history.
Established during the onset of King Phillip’s War within the latter part of the 17th century, this nearly mythical stand of trees had survived unimpeded for almost 350 years. While most other specimens of this age and size have been long lost in the Adirondack mountains due to heavy logging during the area’s settlement, this twelve-acre home to around fifty trees had been preserved. Even if the survival of these pines was unintentional, as the legend of their salvation describes, their existence is a living memorial to untouched wilderness. As my professor continued on with his description of the Elder’s Grove (with me hanging on every word), he finally addressed the crowned jewel of this forest of “kingstrees”, tree #103. His enthusiast portrayal of an ancient giant caressing the sky at just over one-hundred and sixty feet (the tallest known tree in NY State) sparked memories of visiting the redwood forests of California. If I wasn’t already convinced to trek out and find the Elder’s Grove, the fact that the largest tree in the state was essentially in my college’s back yard pushed me over the edge of excitement. I knew that I had to make the time to explore this primordial forest.
It was a few months later that the time for exploration finally came. Instead of venturing out alone, I invited my girlfriend (a fellow tree enthusiast) to tag along on my adventure with no persuasion necessary. After a short ride from Paul Smith’s College, we reached an old gated logging road in the town of Brighton. While continuing on foot down the overgrown logging roads through clearings filled with wild strawberries and daises, we were reminded of the potential fate these trees could have endured. It was hard to believe that it was here, so close to a region characterized by expansive harvest of timber, some giants still remained. After crossing a set of powerlines, we followed a blazed trail marked by previous wanderers leading down the ridge and deeper into the forest. It was like slowly walking back in time as the structure of the land changed around us with every step wiping away decades of human impact.
Upon reaching the bottom of the ridge, I was at last graced with the sight I had been envisioning since first hearing of the Elder’s Grove. There before me stood a skyscraping pillar of deeply furrowed bark glowing in light brown and golden hues with the evening sunset. The trunk of this giant was as wide as I could reach holding straight and true until it surpassed the surrounding deciduous trees reaching up at least another hundred feet into the sky. Just above eye level, a quarter-sized tag was nailed into the bark with #103 etched into the face signaling I had reached my goal. As I stood enamored by the sheer mass of this ancient giant along with the other elders that stood at almost equal size and height, I couldn’t help but feel humbled.
As we left the Elder’s Grove that day, I pondered on what a true blessing it was to see such a pristine example of old-growth Adirondack forest. The beauty and ancient grandeur of this remnant of true wilderness remain as a symbol of persistence and endurance, yet also of loss. With so few wildlands left, a place like the Elder’s Grove holds a sense of priceless value that is impossible to match. All I can hope for is that the Elders may stand a century more so that future generations of wanderers can experience the opportunity of a lifetime.
Curious about the Elder’s Grove? Visit the front desk at the Paul Smith’s College VIC for maps and information.