What is the Arkansas Champion Tree Program?
Arkansas is a renowned state for its scenic, natural beauty and abundant forested areas. The trees of this great little state are pieced together across a varied landscape and offer huge diversity. Champions are unique from one another in size, width, and even color – as they represent entirely different species from one tree to the next. It’s important to remember that not all Arkansas Champions are necessarily tree giants; rather, they are the largest for that tree species. For example, the Champion Ginkgo Tree is much smaller in comparison than say the Champion Bald Cypress Tree. They are equally magnificent, however, in their own unique ways. At this time, there are 123 current State Champion Trees, with several nominations pending.
This program has grown in popularity and recognition thanks to the shared interest of Arkansas landowners, the work of AFC personnel across the state, and the work of two special visionaries: Linda Williams Palmer and Peggy Clark.
Linda Williams Palmer, Hot Springs Artist and long-time Arkansan, was so inspired by Arkansas Champion Trees that she created an entire collection of artwork, featuring large, detailed, colored pencil-drawn images to document and artistically interpret selected Arkansas Champions. Palmer’s exhibit,“Arkansas Champion Trees: An Artist’s Journey,” has been selected for numerous juried exhibitions and collections across the state. Palmer’s work has captured in time the intricate detail and splendor of each Champion Tree featured, so that even as they age, their memory does not. An Arkansas Arts Council grant along with donations from Plum Creek and Domtar enabled the Arkansas Committee of the National Women in the Arts to make Palmer’s series available to 16 venues across the state from 2012 to 2014. View the drawings at Linda's site, here.
Peggy Clark, Arkansas Forestry Association (AFA) Board Member, Ross Foundation Trustee, and former Commissioner with the AFC, saw Linda’s exhibit and was met with a challenge—how could Champion Trees be better identified as Champions of their species by the public? Peggy forged a cooperative effort between the Ross Foundation, AFA, AFC, and the U.S. Forest Service to create hand-crafted, native stone monuments to commemorate and identify Champion Trees.
Stone Mason, Jack Culpepper, of Garvan Woodland Gardens, worked with partners to mount Champion Tree plaques on the stones, identifying the tree species and its status. Thanks to Ms. Clark’s ingenuity, as well as the wonderful partnerships, begun by participation and support from the Ross Foundation, many Champion Trees are now easily visible for visitors and marked handsomely during their reign.
In 2014, the Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN) created a documentary film, “Arkansas Champion Trees,” about Palmer’s work and exhibitions. The film includes historical background for the landowner of each featured tree, a forester’s perspective (told by AFC Forester, Matthew Voskamp) about measuring and documenting trees, as well as the stone monuments. This film has gained national attention and has won several awards. See a film excerpt, at this link. Find a Champion Trees Educator's Guide, at this link.
Furthermore, the Arkansas Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts produced classroom materials, with the support of Entergy Arkansas grants in 2013 and 2014, and a 2013 grant from the School of Forest Resources at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, in order to bring Palmer’s collection to Arkansas students. Materials include complete lesson plans and posters to accompany each work of art Materials are free and available online at the Arkansas Forestry Association website, at this link.
Champion Trees and Their Measurement
Trees are measured in three dimensions: the trunk circumference, height, and average crown spread. Circumference—or diameter if a diameter tape is available—is taken at breast height, 4½ feet from the ground level. The formula below is provided by American Forests as the official calculation of a Champion Tree:
Cii + Hif + ¼ aSif = B.I.
Circumference in inches (Cii), plus Height in feet (Hif),
plus 1/4 the average spread in feet (1/4aSif) =
Bigness Index (B.I.)
There is also a national listing of Tree Champions, identifying the Champion Tree specimen for each species from the entire United States. Visit: www.americanforests.org.
Who May Nominate a Champion Tree?
Arkansans from anywhere in the state may nominate a tree for measurement as a possible new Champion (see nomination forms at the top of this page, please). Local forestry officials use the Bigness Index discussed at right to evaluate tree measurements. Should the measurements of a nominated tree be larger than those of the current state Champion, that tree becomes a new Champion for that species.