Stroll the Old-Growth Forest in Webster

by Sue Freeman

Despite rampant deforestation due to farming and then an explosion of suburbia, small pockets of old-growth forest still exist near us. Renowned old-growth forest authority Bruce Kershner discovered almost 300 old growth forests in Eastern North America, where previously they were believed not to exist. Bruce described 134 sites in his book “The Sierra Club Guide to the Ancient Forests of the Northeast.”
According to Wikipedia, “An old growth forest, also known as primary forest, ancient forest, primeval forest, or frontier forest is a type of forest that has attained great age and so exhibits unique biological features. They typically contain large live trees, large dead trees, and large logs, Due to the great age and height of many trees within old growth forests, they are often more shaded than other types of forests. They are unique, and usually have multiple horizontal layers of vegetation representing a variety of tree species and age-classes.

I don’t know if the old-growth forest in Webster is included in his book or not. Kershner may have excluded it because of its small size, but owners Thomas & Georgia Gosnell knew what they had. Through work with the Trust for Public Land and the Genesee Land Trust, they assured their old-growth forest was preserved for posterity. Now the Webster Parks Department and Friends of Webster Trails have built trails so we can all stroll through the shade and serenity of an old-growth forest.

Gosnell Big Woods Preserve can be found near the intersection of Vosburg and Drumm Roads in Webster. From the parking lot you can turn left to circumnavigate a field for 1.3 miles, along the edge of a woods on the Big Field Trail, and even follow the 1-mile connector trail, walking through Vosburg Hollow, to reach the Hojack Trail. Along the way you cross a bridge over Shipbuilders Creek.

But, to visit the old growth forest, head straight from the parking lot and climb the glacial eskers along the aptly named Big Woods Trail. Wooden signs at junctions will get you pointed in the right direction. It’s a 2.4 mile round trip to walk out and back along this trail. You could walk it in a little over an hour, but slow down. Take time to peer into the woods and savor the sight of the big trees. Follow the short side trail to an overlook where you can sit and contemplate the generosity of folks like the Gosnells who saved this land from development and then passed it on for generations to admire.

Fall is the perfect time for this adventure. By November, some of the brightly colored leaves may still cling to the ground (if they’re not covered by snow). Best of all, the leaves are off the trees, allowing you to see the contours of the glacially sculpted land and easily pick out the biggest of the big trees. Bugs are gone and the cold of winter has yet to settle upon the land. Some of these trees may have been here 100 years ago. What will the Rochester area be like 100 years from now?

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