That is why Shepard is on a mission to find Will County’s biggest trees for possible inclusion on the list.
Jay Hayek, forestry specialist for the University of Illinois Extension and coordinator of the Big Tree program in Illinois, said he would love to have more volunteers searching for Big Tree candidates in Will County and throughout Illinois.
Hayek said finding these “giants” is a way to document and recognize our natural history, and it also gets more people outside and away from the Internet and TV.
“Trees are the world’s largest terrestrial perennial plants and those of us with a penchant for trees are drawn to them for a myriad of reasons,” he added. “To some people, the affinity may be spiritual (that’s the category I fall into). I also like exploring new places – new state/county parks, new forest preserves, forest habitat, geographic regions, etc.”
Anyone can become a champion tree hunter, Hayek said.
“Our volunteers come from all backgrounds: teachers (especially those in the STEM fields); botanists, foresters, and natural resource specialists; arborists; master gardeners and master naturalists; and everyday citizens who prefer to be outside exploring parks, cemeteries and forests.”
And they do it for many reasons, he added.
“Some big tree aficionados do it for bragging rights, some do it for exercise, and some do it for exploration of the natural world around us.”
And while the register is titled Big Tree, not all trees are “huge,” he said.
“We do have what I like to call our ‘little’ Big Tree champions that recognize the stature of some of our diminutive native species that don’t grow to be 80-feet tall. Examples include our native viburnums, dogwoods and serviceberries.”
No matter what the size, all trees deserve our admiration, he added.
“Trees and forests provide a wide array of vital ecosystem services: carbon sequestration, habitat for wildlife, oxygen, watershed/water quality benefits, aesthetic beauty, shade, wood products for society, etc.”
A passion for trees