Norwich library launches big tree quest

By LUKAS DUNFORD

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 09-27-2023 6:16 PM

NORWICH — Under the tree canopy at Milton Frye Nature Area, about a dozen bags of trail mix crinkled in hands of all ages around forester AJ Follensbee as he demonstrated how to accurately measure a white pine.

Follensbee asked for help from the crowd to hold the tape measure level and about 4 feet off the ground as he drew it around the trunk.

With last Saturday’s event at the nature area, which sits next to Marion Cross School, the Norwich Public Library kicked off its “Big Tree Quest,” a six-week program that seeks to find the biggest trees in Norwich and adjacent towns. Participants will be able to submit online one tree per species before the Oct. 22 deadline.

Standing attentively in the semicircle with Follensbee’s group was 11-year-old Norwich resident Cora Swenson, who said she hopes “to find the biggest tree with my family.” Her favorite part was “getting introduced to the trees and learning the biggest ones so far.”

The driving goal of the tree hunt is “to get people, especially kids, out in the woods and trails, just being in nature,” said Lisa Milchman, 61, a Chelsea resident and assistant director at Norwich Public Library.

Until the finale on Nov. 4, there will be weekly programs such as “walks in the woods, a tree-cookie decorating contest and a mindfulness and trees program with the environmental educator from Marion Cross School,” said Milchman.

Last Saturday, a short trail from the parking lot led to a clearing with a small gazebo. Around it, there were conservation infographics, arts and crafts tables and enthusiastic organizers. There were also bags of trail mix, apple cider, temporary tattoos and donut holes.

Caelan McDonald, an 8-year-old Marion Cross student, said he “doesn’t know yet” about what he thought of the event. As per his father, Dylan, Caelan had to be slightly “cajoled” into coming to the nature area on the brisk Saturday morning — though he had been measuring his backyard trees just before.

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While balancing on a log, Caelan added, “Of course, I do know donuts taste good.”

Caelan’s sister, Rhea, 6, also “made some nice leaf rubbings at the arts and crafts table and seems pleased with the trees,” her mother, Rebecca, said.

Dylan McDonald, a 45-year-old National Parks Service employee, said he “had read about the kickoff, and we happen to have some big trees on our property, so maybe (our kids) could measure our trees and submit them.”

Follensbee, who came with his diameter tape and Biltmore stick for measuring, said that “big trees definitely matter in our forest — you know, we don’t have a lot of old-growth forest in the state, and having these big trees and knowing where they are is super important for forest ecology, wildlife and carbon storage.”

Follensbee, 36, a resident of Bradford, Vt., is the Windsor County forester with the Vermont Department of Forest Parks and Recreation.

Follensbee approved of the event’s competitive element: “Maybe we’ll get them out to do more.” He added, “We’re also doing creative things like best drawing or best picture with a tree.”

“I know we have a very competitive group of children,” said Erin Davison, 48, a Windsor resident and the youth services librarian at Norwich Public Library. Throughout the event, participants of all ages often exchanged thoughts on the biggest trees they’d seen around town.

Phillip Eller, of Norwich, 79, lives just a short walk away from the event and was particularly interested in “wolf trees,” which are “big trees with lots of branches close to the ground,” he said.

Looking around at the event bustling with dozens of people, “we can see all the kids at the craft table participating, and people now are strolling through the woods or talking with each other,” Milchman observed. “So much of this is about community development, I think that’s what we’re seeing, right here,” she said.

The library’s next two big tree events will be tree identification walks. The first is geared towards kids and will take place in the gazebo on the Norwich town green on Saturday, Sept. 30, from 3 to 4 p.m. The other tree walk is for all ages and will be on Oct. 4, from 5 to 6 p.m., with Follensbee.

The other three events will all take place in the Norwich Public Library community room: The “Trees & Mindfulness Learning Event” will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 18, from 3 to 4 p.m., and the “Tree Cookie Decorating Party” will go from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 25. The finale on Saturday, Nov. 4, from 10 to 11:30 a.m., will include the announcement of winners and the unveiling of the Big Tree Map of 2023.

Lukas Dunford can be reached at lukas.a.dunford.25@dartmouth.edu.