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The mission of Great Mountain Forest is to be a leader in forest stewardship. We practice sustainable forest management, promote biodiversity and resilience to climate change, support education and research, and welcome all who love the woods.

Great Mountain Forest 

October 2022

In this issue:

Addition to the Staff

Fruits of the Forst: Oak Apple Galls

GMF Staff Member a Featured Speaker

Spotlight on the Tamarack Trail

Fall Foliage Colors- A Matter of Pigment

Addition to the Staff

Heather Thomson has moved over from the Board of Trustees of GMF to become Interim Executive Director. In her new role, she will be focused on initiatives already underway and assisting the Board in planning for future needs. Heather grew up outside of Philadelphia, graduated from Williams College, and has an MBA from UConn and an MS from Tufts. She has spent most of her career on the research side of the pharmaceutical industry and looks forward to supporting research at GMF. Heather has lived in Norfolk for the past 36 years with her husband, Schuyler, a noted restorer of wooden boats, and has long enjoyed hiking, snowshoeing, and skiing in Great Mountain Forest.

Fruits of the Forest: Oak Apple Galls

A common sight under oak trees in late summer and early fall are small, nearly hollow balls, about an inch in diameter, commonly known as “oak apples.” These are galls formed by the tiny wasp Amphibolips confluent, which lays eggs in budding oak leaves in the spring. The developing larva highjacks the leaf to create a green gall, with the larva suspended by fibers in the middle of the sphere. Mid-summer, the adult wasp exits through a small hole, and the gall dries and turns brown. 


While the galls are not edible, Jody Bronson contributes the recipe for gall ink, which has been used for centuries; he claims it was used to sign the Declaration of Independence:


Collect a dozen dried oak galls and crush them with a mortar and pestle. Soak them in one pint of water (using an old rusty cast iron pot) for 24 hours. Filter the ink through some old cloth. Some people add powdered egg whites to thicken it; they also say rusty steel wool will work if a rusty cast iron pot is unavailable.

(Pictures in order of appearance: dried oak galls in a glass bowl; cred: Heather Thomson, Amphibolips confluent; cred: Bug Tracks, a cross-section of oak apple gall; cred: Ohio State University)

GMF Staff Member a Featured Speaker

Matt Gallagher, the GMF Director of Programs and Operations, was a speaker and panelist at a program organized by the Sharon Audubon Center, “Carbon, Climate, and Conservation,” on September 24; he opened his remarks by explaining that GMF is a multiple-use forest, which means that we have multiple objectives, including carbon management, which needs to be balanced against maintaining critical wildlife habitats and regenerating certain tree species.


Matt explained the difference between carbon storage and carbon sequestration, terms that tend to get used interchangeably. Carbon storage is the amount of carbon retained in a carbon pool within the forest, and storage levels increase with time, typically peaking in the northeast when forests are old. Carbon sequestration, on the other hand, is the process of removing carbon from the atmosphere for use in photosynthesis, resulting in the maintenance and growth of plants and trees, and the rate at which sequestration occurs changes over time but usually peaks in the northeast when forests are young to intermediate in age.


He pointed out that the most crucial strategy for resilient forests that can store carbon to help mitigate climate change in the long term is to avoid loss of forest to conversion of non-forest use. This includes the tilling and grading of soil and removal of stumps. This results in the loss of both above-ground biomass and belowground biomass and soil carbon. As a good long-term retention strategy, Matt encouraged forestland owners to consider conservation-based estate planning. As a second strategy, species diversity across the forest can result in higher carbon stocks because more niches are filled with trees with different strategies for growth, like conifers vs. broadleaf, and shade tolerance. Finally, increasing the proportion of younger age classes by promoting regeneration can capitalize on the fast growth of young trees, increasing the stand-level sequestration rate in time. This can advance forest resiliency through higher diversity in age class and species and benefit wildlife.


Matt concluded with a discussion of methods to increase the structural complexity of our forests, emphasizing the contributions of understory, mid-story, and overstory components across the vertical structure of a forest as well as the mosaic of a varied horizontal structure across the landscape scale. Evaluating a forest’s vulnerability to climate change and using management techniques to address or reduce those vulnerabilities will continue to be an essential aspects of good forest stewardship. 

Spotlight on the Tamarack Trail

The Spotlight Series will feature walks and points of interest in the Forest.

The Tamarack Trail is an excellent walk with more minor children: it’s a ¾ mile loop around the pond, and they can lead the way by spotting the round yellow markers. The trail leaves from the GMF Forestry Office at 201 Windrow Road in Norfolk, and interpretive signs point out some of the features of this part of the forest, from management practices to successional dynamics, making the walk an educational outing. 

On the Tamarack Trail, hikers are welcome, as are dogs on leashes. Future Spotlights will feature roads and trails permitting bicycles.

Fall Foliage Colors - A Matter of Pigment

Summer has ended, and hints of the coming winter remind us of changes brewing. Fall marks the season of adaptation for many plants and wildlife. As we grab our pumpkin spice lattes and flannel shirts to head out to the trailheads and take in the foliage, have you ever taken a moment to wonder why specific colors appear? Three pigments are responsible for the summer greens and the brilliant reds, yellows, oranges, and purples of fall in GMF:


Chlorophyll gives leaves their primary green color and is necessary for photosynthesis.


Carotenoids produce yellow, orange, and brown colors in such things as corn, carrots, buttercups, and fall foliage.


Anthocyanins produce the red, blue, and purple colors of cranberries, red apples, grapes, blueberries, and other delicious fruits.


All leaves gradually lose chlorophyll during the growing season, and this loss accelerates before leaf fall. Under optimal conditions, this loss process is orderly and allows the plants to resorb much of the nitrogen in the structure of the pigment molecule. Carotenoid pigments are also lost during aging, but some are retained in the plastids after the chlorophyll is removed, producing autumn leaves with yellow colors. Most interesting are leaves that turn red because this color results from the active synthesis of anthocyanin pigments just before the leaves fall from the trees.


For more information on the chemical process, visit CT Forestry - Why Leaves Change Color.

Forest Notices

Welcome to the forest!

GMF is a place of peaceful co-existence for everyone

  • Keep your dog on a leash and if you pack it in--pack it out.

  • Sign in at kiosks at the East and West Gates.

  • Watch for inclement weather notices on social media and website.

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GMF is critical to the environmental and economic sustainability of the region as well as an important contributor to research and education about climate change and environmental health. Help us support the forest as a vital natural resource and a place for those who love the woods.

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