Imagine a landscape filled with American chestnut trees, some so large an entire family could stand in front of the trunk. This was once a reality in the area before a blight killed off all the American chestnuts, and the hemlock tree is in danger of the same fate unless the community takes action.
The town of Walden is holding an informational meeting for residents interested in saving the town's hemlocks from the hemlock woolly adelgid, an insect that has infested the area and will eventually kill the trees if left untreated. The meeting will begin at Town Hall Saturday, Jan. 26 at 1 p.m. and will move to the McCoy property for a demonstration if weather permits.
In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 90-95 percent of the hemlocks are gone due to the woolly adelgid, said Douglas Godbee, forest health forester with the Tennessee Division of Forestry who will be leading the Walden meeting.
"We know it is present in Walden," said Godbee, adding that the hemlock woolly adelgid was first spotted in the eastern part of Hamilton County in 2010, and Walden's present infestation has been going on for several years (see http://community.timesfreepress.com/news/2010/apr/28/public-meeting-being-planned-combat-hemlock-diseas/ to learn about previous efforts to confront the issue).
"The mountain has a lot of hemlocks, and if they are not treated, they will die," said meeting organizer Alison Hoffman.
Hemlocks are a keystone species in the area, so their absence would affect the entire ecosystem, she said. Hemlocks typically grow along streams, and the shade they provide regulates the temperature of the water. If the hemlocks are removed, it would increase erosion on the bank, and the temperature in the water would rise, affecting wildlife living in the stream.
"We want to educate the public about identifying the insect on their own trees and how to treat the trees, and create community awareness in order to develop a volunteer effort to treat the trees we all own," said Hoffman, referring to the towering hemlocks on the McCoy property now owned by the town of Walden and intended for public use including nature trails.
Godbee said he will teach attendees how to save infested hemlocks by covering topics including how to treat the trees for woolly adelgid, how long the chemical treatment lasts and how much it costs. The chemicals used are for general use and do not require a license, he added.
"Trees that are not near water are very simple to treat," said Hoffman, as the chemicals used to treat the trees cannot be used near a water source.
How to treat trees near water sources, such as Mabbitt Springs and Shoal Creek, will be addressed at a later date.
A work day will be held at the McCoy property in March, when volunteers will help treat the many hemlocks on the property that otherwise will be at risk of extinction.
"When I think of trees on Signal Mountain I think of dogwoods and I think of hemlocks," said Hoffman, adding that hemlocks are featured on the Signal Mountain license plate created by Chris Lyle (see http://community.timesfreepress.com/news/2011/sep/14/new-signal-mountain-license-plate-design-unveiled/), showing how their likeness is representative of the area for many residents. "Most people I know love hemlocks, and their absence would be felt very strongly."