DAUPHIN COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — A special celebration took place today in Dauphin County with members of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Old-Growth Forest Network.

“Today we dedicated the Boyd Big Tree area as the 22nd old-growth forest in Pennsylvania’s Old-Growth Forest Network, in collaboration with the Old-Growth Forest Network,” said DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn.

The Big Boyd Tree Preserve sits off Route 443 in Dauphin County and covers over 1,000 acres. The area added to the network is about 80 acres, accessible by hiking trails.

So what makes an old growth forest an old growth forest? According to Brian Kane, the Mid-Atlantic Director of the Old-Growth Forest Network, it involves more than just really big trees:

“It means it has very old trees, generally over 100 years and beyond, but more importantly it has a diversity of species within the forest. It’s not a monoculture, and there are trees of various sizes and species, but also trees that support a network of life. Everything from the beetles that eat the decomposed forest trees, up to the mammals and birds that nest and roost in our trees, all of that is what comprises an old growth forest.”

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Jennifer Hirt of Harrisburg nominated Big Boyd for old growth status.

“I knew Dauphin County did not have an old growth are designated yet, and I knew that this area was very likely going to qualify as old growth,” she said. “And I knew that because of the variety of the species of trees, the variety of fungus, the moisture level, and just the ages of the trees — some younger trees, some older trees with the standing snags, and nurse logs that have fallen on the ground and that are nurturing new seedlings.”

Old growth forests are very rare. Kane said, “In the East Coast, only 1% of what’s considered virgin forest remains.”

“The forests of Pennsylvania 250 years ago,” explains Dunn, “were pretty complete old growth forest. And that changed during the industrial revolution and such, they were cut down and burned, a few of them remained, and many of them started to grow back.”

The Old-Growth Forest Network helps to make sure they’ll continue to grow back.

“It’s perpetually protected from logging, commercial logging, so we know that once it is dedicated in our network, these trees will never be taken down for commerce,” said Kane.

“It feels really amazing to know that this area will be protected,” said Hirt. “It has one more layer of protection, it’s an ideal conservation area and ideal preservation area.”