For 26 years, the 90-foot American elm in Harvey Peek’s front yard has been his nemesis.
Dropping its leaves every year for Peek to rake. Hovering next to his drive as if it might topple and smash his car one day. Thriving despite the constant salt spray it gets from the road each winter.
“Now I pray it doesn’t die,” Peek said with a hearty laugh. “I include that tree in my prayers every night.”
He has new respect for what he calls his “mutant tree” after learning it was likely standing there when Abraham Lincoln was alive — quite a feat since Dutch elm disease has wreaked havoc among its brethren.
“I had no idea it was that old,” he said. “I feel like installing lights and a security camera on it and chasing away the squirrels and birds.”
It’s that kind of appreciation the Summit Soil and Water Conservation District hoped to promote when it encouraged area communities to participate in the Ohio Big Tree Program, an annual effort to try to identify the largest tree of each species in the state.
The city of Hudson joined in the hunt, as well as Cuyahoga Falls, Green, Munroe Falls, Stow, Sagamore Hills and Silver Lake.
Residents were asked to nominate trees they thought would make the cut.
That’s when Susan Peek told her husband to submit their own behemoth.
“I knew we were going to win. It’s just majestic. I look at that tree and I can’t believe it’s ours,” she said.
Sandy Barbic, the conservation district’s education specialist, said nearly 50 Summit County trees were nominated this year.
While none rose to the status of biggest in the state, six entries collected more than 300 points in a formula that considers height, circumference and other measurements.
Those six tree owners received a special certificate at a recent breakfast ceremony.
Barbic said the point of the program is to call attention to the unheralded work that trees do for the planet, from keeping the ground cool to filtering dangerous carbon dioxide to stopping erosion.
Cuyahoga Falls resident Barbara Hunsicker said she was surprised to hear her 104-foot silver maple drinks in 7,692 gallons of stormwater every year.
“And there’s the whole aspect of preventing pollution. Sometimes I think we have the cleanest air in the neighborhood,” Hunsicker said. “We have this charming little brick house and this gigantic tree that hangs over it like a big umbrella. It’s just beautiful.”
In addition to the Peek and Hunsicker trees, there were four other winners in this year’s Summit County Big Tree contest:
•?With 357 points, the Goodwin family of Cuyahoga Falls took first place for a 120-foot silver maple on Chestnut Street that removes 3,203 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air every year.
•?A 125-foot pin oak on Cathy Drive netted an award for the Altomare family. This one shady tree saves the family $24 a year in electricity and $46 a year in natural gas, Barbic estimated.
•?The Roots of Stow won recognition for a white oak on Ritchie Road that sports a contest-topping crown measuring 135-feet in circumference.
•?A pin oak off Kent Road in Stow, owned by the Jagger family, stands 110 feet tall and 180 inches around.
The Soil and Water Conservation District’s effort this year may not have identified new state champions, but several area trees are already listed among the largest in the state. For a list of the largest known trees in the state, visit http://ohiodnr.com/forestry/bigtrees/tabid/4806/Default.aspx.
Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/paulaschleis.