Jake Swamp Tree in Mohawk Trail State Forest
The Jake Swamp tree is the tallest tree in New England; the white pine reaches 163.2-foot in the Trees of Peace Grove in Mohawk Trail State Forest.

The Old Growth Forests in New England

I loved working on this article. The story is deceptively simple, but to illustrate it I went on many hikes with Bob, returned to the sites alone, talked with local researchers, hung out with archeologists, prodded bureaucrats for drone permissions…It was the type of story I could really dig into.

All the work paid off and it is the cover story for the February 2022 Smithsonian Magazine: The Old Man and The Tree

“To enter a forest with Bob Leverett is to submit to a convivial narration of the natural world, defined as much by its tangents as its destinations—by its opportunities for noticing. At 80, Leverett remains nimble, powered by a seemingly endless enthusiasm for sharing his experience of the woods with newcomers like me.

Born and raised in mountain towns in the Southern Appalachians, in a house straddling the state line between Georgia and Tennessee, Leverett served for 12 years as an Air Force engineer, with stints in the Dakotas, Taiwan and the Pentagon, but he hasn’t lost any of his amiable Appalachian twang. And though he’s lived the majority of his life in New England, where he worked as an engineering head of a management consulting firm and software developer until he retired in 2007, he comes across like something between an old Southern senator and an itinerant preacher, ready to filibuster or sermonize at a moment’s notice. Invariably, the topic of these sermons is the importance of old-growth forest, not only for its serene effect on the human soul or for its biodiversity, but for its vital role in mitigating climate change.”

Jonny Diamond

Portrait of Robert Leverett and his wife Monica Jakuc Leverett in Mohawk Trail State Forest.
Portrait of Robert Leverett and his wife Monica Jakuc Leverett in Mohawk Trail State Forest.
Shadow of a fern leaf on a new tree in the underbrush in Charlemont, Massachusetts.
Shadow of a fern leaf on a sapling in the underbrush of Mohawk Trail State Forest.
Robert Leverett backs into a tree to get a good angle for measuring a tall tree.
Robert Leverett backs into a tree to get a good angle for measuring a tall tree. He refined the methods for measuring the height of trees with laser distance measuring tools and promoted methodologies that classify forests for scientific purposes instead of standard logging and forestry.
Today we are used to seeing forests throughout western Massachusetts, but this is a relatively recent phenomenon because most of the East Coast has been clearcut several times since the colonists arrived.  There has been a constant need for firewood, lumber and pasture for sheep.
Today we are used to seeing forests throughout western Massachusetts, but this is a relatively recent phenomenon because most of the East Coast has been clear-cut several times since the colonists arrived. There has been a constant need for firewood, lumber, and pasture for sheep.
The back of one of these photographs reads - "From a group of photographs taken in 1912 to illustrate an article on Industry in New England".  It does not say what the publication was. Then "This was the gang that ran the steam powered sawmill owned by Will Brown.  When this picture was taken (1912) the mill was set up in the west part of Rowe.  This picture shows it required many more men when crosscut saws, axes and horses were used than it now does with chainsaws, log skidders and other modern equipment." -Rowe Historical Society
The back of one of these photographs reads – “From a group of photographs taken in 1912 to illustrate an article on Industry in New England”. It does not say what the publication was. Then “This was the gang that ran the steam-powered sawmill owned by Will Brown. When this picture was taken (1912), the mill was set up in the west part of Rowe. This picture shows it required many more men when crosscut saws, axes, and horses were used than it now does with chainsaws, log skidders, and other modern equipment.” -Rowe Historical Society
This photograph was taken from Kings Highway facing west around 1900 judging from the buildings that are in it. The most distant mountain that you can see towards the left hand side is Greylock. If you were to walk to these areas today you would be in deep woods. -Rowe Historical Society
This photograph was taken from Kings Highway facing west around 1900 judging from the buildings that are in it. The most distant mountain that you can see on the left-hand side is Greylock. If you were to walk to these areas today you would be in deep woods. -Rowe Historical Society
Roots from a fallen tree in Ice Glen. This tree was not a particularly old tree, but the forests near it have a diversity of growth from young to very old because it was never clearcut for logging or pasture.
An archeological dig by the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe, Williams College, and the City of Stockbridge  searches for evidence of colonial era habitation by Native Americans, near the Ice Glen old growth forest.
An archeological dig by the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe, Williams College, and the City of Stockbridge searches for evidence of colonial-era habitation by Native Americans, near the Ice Glen old-growth forest.
One benefit of old-growth forests is the variety of organisms they support, whether animals, microbes, or fungus.
Eastern newt
An Eastern newt wanders under a tall white pine in a ravine in Ice Glen.
The trunk of a White Ash tree.
Robert Leverett hikes up a hillside to find a good angle to measure the height of a tree in Charlemont, Massachusetts.
Smithsonian Cover Story