State budget cuts put Hall County’s annual Champion Tree contest on hold last year, but with the help of a team of volunteers, the program is back.
The Champion Tree program honors the county’s largest known specimens of local tree species, with many of the trees discovered and nominated by the public. In the past, a Georgia Forestry representative would visit each site and measure the tree’s dimensions: crown spread, height and trunk diameter.
Phillip Anderson, a ranger with the Georgia Forestry Commission, said private foresters and other volunteers stepped up to help judge the trees, freeing up forestry manpower for other projects. The contest is accepting tree nominations now through Dec. 15.
"We’ve had some people, private foresters and volunteers, step in and help out with the measuring and things, where we’ll be able to have the contest this year and still maintain our budget cuts that were put in place," Anderson said. "If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be able to have the contest."
Anderson said the commission usually gets lots of feedback from the community about the winning trees, and even though the contest was put on hold last year, community members still were finding contenders. Hall County’s list of Champion Trees includes more than 100 species, along with about a half dozen state champions and a couple of national champions.
Jackson County resident Jimmy Mock is a retired teacher who specialized in agriculture education, and, with some friends, he has helped find about 30 champion trees over the years. He said the program is a great way to teach people about the trees that might be, literally, in their own backyard.
"The Champion Tree program is exciting, as a lot of people do follow the program, and some of them don’t know the species they have and they’re happy to find out the names of them," Mock said.
"I’m always on the lookout for trees," he added. "The city parks have been an excellent place, but also churches, old schools, cemeteries — those are other good places because trees are protected. Unless they’re hit by lightning or a tornado, those aren’t usually cut like in a subdivision, where they clear the lot."
Winning trees will be announced Feb. 19 when Georgia celebrates its state Arbor Day.
Scott Griffin, a forest health specialist for the North Georgia area of the Forestry Commission, said the Champion Tree program is a way to get the word out about trees.
"It’s just something we can do to highlight the importance of trees," he said. "The wood products we get, the oxygen, the environmental benefits of trees. And it gives our agency some publicity so people know more about what we do."