| Story by Cindy Cain |
On a sizzling hot morning in July, Dave Shepard walked into a patch of densely shaded woods to wrap his arms around some trees.
Shepard’s embrace allowed him to stretch his tape measure around the trunks of mega trees that call the Forest Preserve District’s Messenger Woods Nature Preserve home.
The environmental science teacher and tree aficionado is on a mission to nominate Will County trees to the Illinois Big Tree Register, which was created in 1962 “to appreciate, discover, and record the largest native tree species in the state.”
Almost 40 years ago, Shepard successfully nominated five trees to the list, including a northern red oak and a black maple at Messenger Woods. But then life intervened. He married, moved, and began teaching at three area colleges while also becoming active on tree boards and in restoration projects.
When Shepard heard the state had cleared its Big Tree list in 2013 to recertify the state’s tree champions, he said he knew he had to get back to the woods, back to his roots, and back to nominating champion trees.