June 27, 2016

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Sugar maple chosen as winner of Big Tree contest

Nancy Johnson | The Gazette

Ladies and gentlemen, get out your clinometers. It’s time to measure the height of this year’s 11th annual Big Tree contest winner.

Sponsored by Medina County Soil and Water Conservation District and The Gazette, the contest features a different tree species every year. Last year’s winner was a northern red oak.

Medina County Soil and Water Conservation District staff members Jim Dieter and Beth Schnabel use clinometers to size up the winner of this year’s Big Tree Contest, a sugar maple in the Medina County Park District’s Allardale Park, in Granger Township. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY NANCY JOHNSON)

In past years, champions have included northern catalpa, white oak, and wild black cherry. This year, district staff members decided it was the sugar maple’s time to shine.

The 2013 champion is a towering sugar maple (acer saccharum) located in Medina County Park District’s scenic Allardale Park, on Remsen Road in Granger Township.

Standing 115 feet tall and 165 inches in diameter, the winner provides a wide swath of shade with its 65-foot crown spread.

“We announced the 2013 contest last October,” said district technician Jim Dieter, as he walked through the woods to measure the Allardale maple. “The public was encouraged to submit nominations through March of this year.”

Nine sugar maples were nominated.

Each year SWCD staff members Dieter and Beth Schnabel use a special device called a clinometer to measure the height of the contestants. Circumference is determined using a good-old-fashioned measuring tape. The task is no easy feat as many of the nominees are located deep in the woods with some, like this year’s winner, on a slippery slope of rock and vegetation. Created by Dieter and Schnabel, the Big Tree contest is more than a labor of love for the duo.

“Trees are important for soil and water conservation,” said Schnabel, the agency’s education specialist. “The contest encourages residents to take a walk in the woods. Every time people are conscious of their environment, they see how important it is to have a good balance in nature.”

The path to this year’s champ is bordered by purple asters, black-eyed Susans and goldenrod.

“They are native prairie plants,” Schnabel said, as she calmly sidestepped a large garter snake slithering into the blackberry briars.

“He’s just doing his job,” she laughed.

Although sugar maples grow at different rates depending on climate and other factors, Dieter believes this year’s champ is more than 200 years old. That means it was flourishing in 1813, the year James Madison was inaugurated for a second term as president, Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” was published to rave reviews and Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry trounced the British on Lake Erie in the War of 1812.

The sugar maple, one of 148 maple species in North America, is known for its beauty, particularly in autumn when its leaves burst into hues of burnished gold and crimson.

But according to Dieter, the sugar maple is more than just a beauty queen. The hard-working species has economical significance through the production of maple syrup and the use of its fine-grained wood for floors, furniture and musical instruments.

The Allards, who bought and gave name to the Allardale land in 1881, had a long history of sugar mapling, according to Jim Spetz, the natural resource supervisor for the Medina County Park District, who nominated the winning tree.

“Stan Allard worked the dairy and tree farm until donating it to the park system in 1992,” Spetz said. By that time Allard, who was born in 1911 and died in 2003, had planted 100,000 trees on the property.

The Allardale tree had already been named the biggest tree in the state before winning the Big Tree contest.

“When SWCD announced the sugar maple as this year’s species, I knew our tree had a chance of winning,” Spetz said.

He said he was not surprised to hear the Allardale tree had some stiff competition. A tall sugar maple on Richmond Farms in Lodi came very close to sharing the prize.

“There’s an interesting connection between the two properties,” he said, “Richmond Farms is operated by the Indoe family. Stan Allard married Esther Indoe and his brother Carroll married Zella Indoe.

“It’s clear that the families share an interest in conservation.”

A plaque will be presented for this year’s winner and next year’s selected species will be announced Oct. 19, at the conservation district’s annual meeting, at the University of Akron’s Medina County University Center, 6300 Technology Lane.

The public is welcome but must register to attend by calling the district’s office at (330) 722-2628. Residents may also add their names to the district’s newsletter mailing list by visiting www.medinaswcd.org.

Contact reporter Nancy Johnson at (330) 721-4065 or areanews@medina-gazette.com.

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The Gazette is Medina County's daily local news source, serving the community since 1832. Contact The Gazette's news department at (330) 721-4065 or areanews@medina-gazette.com.