SEFS Grad Students Help Judge “Big Tree Contest”

On Friday, September 26, two SEFS graduate students, Sean Jeronimo and Nichole Studevant, spent an afternoon serving as judges in the first-ever Waskowitz Big Tree Contest. Their job was to take measurements of six Douglas-firs around Burien, Wash., to determine which one was the biggest—and these weren’t just any trees, either. They were “Waskowitz Trees,” the fruits of a great tradition at Camp Waskowitz that started back in the 1960s.

Waskowitz Big Tree ContestLocated in North Bend, Wash., Camp Waskowitz was originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) in the 1930s. It was later renamed in honor of Fritz Waskowitz, a former University of Washington football player who as a pilot was shot down and killed during World War II. (Today, Camp Waskowitz is one of only two remaining CCC Camps in the country with all of the original buildings still standing.)

In 1947, Highline Public Schools—a district serving the communities of Burien, Des Moines, Normandy Park, SeaTac, Boulevard Park and White Center—started sending sixth-graders to spend a week at Camp Waskowitz, where they would learn about the outdoors, forestry and conservation. For many years, from the late 1960s through the mid-1980s, the students would come home from camp with a Douglas-fir seedling to plant in their yards. Weyerhaeuser donated some of the trees from their nursery, while others were transplanted from along Interstate 90, and now thousands of those Waskowitz Trees are still thriving as part of the local urban forest.

The tree contest came about as a fun way to reconnect with former campers and determine which of those trees had, in fact, thrived the most!

Waskowitz Big Tree Contest

Kent Horton, left, with Sean Jeronimo and Nichole Studevent.

Kent Horton, president of the Waskowitz Foundation and one of the chief organizers, reached out to SEFS last spring to solicit help judging the finalists. He then spent the summer working with Barbara McMichael at the Highline Historical Society, which co-sponsored the contest, to collect submissions from campers who had either planted a Waskowitz Tree or who knew of one growing near them. The entry fee was $5, and submissions had to include specific information about the tree—location, who planted it and when, rough dimensions, and any other backstory or memories about why the tree was important. In turn, the owner of the winning tree, as well as the student or family who planted it, would each receive a $150 prize and a plaque to commemorate the achievement.

After the deadline on September 1, Horton says they were able to narrow the field from about 20 entries to the top six potential winners. That’s when he called in Jeronimo and Studevant—armed with Spencer® tapes, clinometers and laser rangefinders—to take more precise measurements and determine a grand-prize winner.

It took a couple hours for them to locate and size up all of the trees, some of which had been planted in tricky spots or wedged up against a house, but Jeronimo and Studevant were eventually able to declare a clear winner. Using the American Forests Big Tree Program measurement guidelines, they measured one Douglas-fir at 101.5 feet tall, with a diameter at breast height (DBH) of 32.7 inches and crown spread of 51.1 feet.

Waskowitz Big Tree Contest

The winning tree, which had grown to 101.5 feet since it was planted in 1968!

Jeronimo and Studevant thoroughly enjoyed the judging, and their favorite part was getting to meet folks who had such a special attachment to their trees. “It was a lot of fun,” says Jeronimo, a second-year master’s student working with Professor Jerry Franklin. “We got to talk to some interesting residents, some of whom had planted the trees themselves, which was pretty neat.”

Horton also showed them one submission that came from a woman who had included a photo of herself next to the 3-foot-tall seedling, and then one of herself standing next to the mature tree today. Her entry didn’t make the cut as a finalist, but it was a powerful image of a lifelong relationship with the Waskowitz Tree. “It was great to see people who were really connected to their trees, and who had loved and protected them,” says Studevant, who is in her final quarter of the Master of Forest Resources program.

The woman who had planted the winner, as it happens, had a forestry background, and her tree—planted in 1968—had definitely made the most if its years. Now she can proudly claim to have the biggest Waskowitz Tree around, and thanks to Jeronimo and Studevant she has the official numbers to prove it!

Photos © Barbara McMichael.

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