Upland forests occur on the uplands and valley slopes of the Gorge. You can see them in the Goldmine/Ford Mine Tracts along the C&O Canal in Maryland; at Riverbend, Great Falls and Turkey Run parks; and Scotts Run Nature Preserve in Virginia.
Upland forests are those rolling hills and swales of woodland that typify the Piedmont. Tall trees, especially of the oak-hickory mix, tower over small streams, seeps and ravines. Soils tend to be rich and organic. Within in these forests, there are changes from one part of the woods to the next. You can feel the subtle variations in temperature as you climb hills or descend streams.
Ironically, unless you know what to look for, upland forests of the Potomac Gorge might seem to be flourishing. You can see big trees and hear birds singing. But on a closer look in many places, you might notice that the forest floor seems remarkably empty of shrubs and small plants. You might notice more informal footpaths cutting in and out of the woods than appear on your trail map. You might even see more trails than groundcover.
An over-abundance of trails created by "bushwhackers" can have a terrible effect on the forest. So-called social trails and short-cuts to favorite spots along the river disrupt the natural systems of the forest. The simple act of walking around a muddy spot to keep your shoes dry widens the trail further, causing more damage. Before you know it, a forest with a path through it has become a vast network of trails divided by trees.
To make matters worse, the burgeoning deer population devour young seedlings and small plants. When the forest floor gets too disturbed, aggressive non-native trees and shrubs get a foothold. Some, when they first arrive, seem pleasant enough. The pretty white flower of multiflora rose is an example. Before long, the plant completely takes over the forest.
Road systems and drainage culverts, utility corridors, and park management practices also affect the forest.
When visiting the Gorge, the easiest way for you to help the forest is to stay on the trail. As a resident of the Gorge neighborhood, learn about and support efforts to protect open space and large blocks of forestland. Join local efforts to eradicate invasive plants. Urge public officials to invest in the best possible practices in building and maintaining roadways.
Last updated: April 10, 2015