Trees are cut down every day in Michigan, but not all of them have the rich history of a sugar maple that was removed from Rapid River Township in Kalkaska County on Tuesday. According to Department of Natural Resources foresters who examined the rings of this particular tree — an original “witness tree” from the 1850 resurvey of northern Michigan — the tree is believed to have been more than 200 years old.
Witness trees serve as reference points, or accessories, used to locate land corners in surveying. In rural areas, trees are often used as witnesses. This tree, which died last year, was originally marked by a U.S. government surveyor named Lucius Lyon on Sept. 26, 1850. Lyon served as Michigan surveyor general from 1845 to 1850. The tree was 10 inches in diameter at the time of that marking, and was 36 inches in diameter when it was cut down.
“There are very few of these original witness trees left in Michigan today,” said Jerry Grieve, a land use forester with the DNR’s Forest Resources Division. “A lot of people have put a lot of care into the salvage effort of this significant tree. We’re very fortunate that its importance won’t be lost simply because it’s no longer in the forest. Preservation plans are underway to keep this tree and its history available to the public.”
The tree was originally identified as being in poor health in 2010. Since then, the DNR had been keeping an eye on it and making plans for the best way to salvage it.
DNR staff from the Forest Resources and Parks and Recreation divisions, and members of the Northern Chapter of the Michigan Society of Professional Surveyors (MSPS) joined Great Lakes Energy, which volunteered its time and a Trees Inc. crew, to help with the removal of the tree.
To prepare it for cutting, MSPS and DNR representatives dug around the tree to provide more space for a cut to be made as close to the base as possible. The close cut helped to salvage more of the tree to be used in displays. A portion of the sugar maple will be on display at the Michigan Forest Visitor Center at Hartwick Pines State Park in Grayling, and the display may also rotate to other state parks. Michigan State University’s Department of Forestry also expressed interest in getting cuts of the tree for its own exhibit. To learn more about the salvage of this historic witness tree, contact Jerry Grieve at 231-258-2711 ext. 6549. For more information about the Michigan Forest Visitor Center at Hartwick Pines State Park, visit www.michigan.gov/hartwickpines.