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Maryland's Trees Stand Tall
· an 85-foot Kentucky coffee tree in Washington County at Antietam, tied for the national honor with a tree in Ohio;
· and a 64-foot American holly near Bowie in Prince George's County, a co-champion with a tree in Arlington County and another in the city of Alexandria.
"This is a kind of up year for us," said John Bennett, a retired special education teacher from Cecil County who is the lead volunteer for Maryland's champion tree program. "We are very pleased, given our small size, that we have 18 trees. Delaware has none, and Rhode Island has none."
Maryland's veteran champions, which kept their positions on the national list, are a mockernut hickory in Upper Marlboro; a chestnut oak in Severna Park; a common chokecherry in Owings Mills; a honey locust in Ijamsville; a black mulberry in Westminster; an althea hibiscus in Arnold; a slippery elm in Frederick; a Kentucky coffee tree in Hagerstown; a box elder in Monrovia; a shagbark hickory in Edgewater; an American beech in Lothian; and an American hazelnut in Prince Frederick.
Getting to see the state's big trees is not easy, Bennett said. Many are on private property, and while owners are happy to have their trees designated, they aren't always keen on having lots of visitors. So it's best to check before heading out to try to find the trees, Bennett said.
The official hunt for champion-size trees began in Maryland in 1925, Bennett said, when Fred Besley, the state's first official forester, decided to develop a system to compare trees from different parts of the state. He devised a three-part system that involved measuring height of the tree, the girth of the trunk and the average crown spread, or the distances among points along the "drip line" of the tree. Maryland's program soon grew to a nationwide competition conducted by the American Forestry Association.
The state foresters ran Maryland's program until early this decade when budget cuts led to its elimination. "This was devastating to a lot of us since Maryland had started the program. We didn't want to be the first state to drop it," Bennett said.
Now the responsibility for ascertaining the state's biggest trees has fallen to a band of volunteers who tramp through private and public lands across Maryland each year to measure trees that have been locally nominated. Bennett estimated he put 2,500 miles on his car last year as he and others tried to verify the nominees' vital statistics.
"If you nominate a tree, we will try to get out and measure. You never know," Bennett said. "We might find another champion that way."