Biggest tree of its kind in state cut down

A Seymour tree once listed as one of the biggest of its kind in the state has been cut down for safety reasons, city officials said.

The swamp chestnut oak was located near the volleyball courts in Gaiser Park on the city’s south side and was listed on the state Department of Natural Resources’ Indiana Big Tree Registry in 1992. The registry is updated every five years.

City workers removed the tree last week.

The biggest swamp chestnut oak in the state is now one located in Crothersville. That tree is owned by Richard Schepman.

At the time of its registry listing, the Seymour tree stood 85 feet tall with a circumference of 189 inches or nearly 16 feet and had a crown spread of 94 feet, which is the distance its branches spread away from the trunk.

Schepman’s tree stands 108 feet tall and has a circumference of 289 inches, or 24 feet, and a crown spread of 129 feet, according to the registry.

Mayor Craig Luedeman estimated the tree in Gaiser Park had grown around five feet since it was registered in 1992.

It was nominated for the honor by Eric Johnson, who was forest resource specialist for the Jackson-Washington State Forest near Brownstown at the time.

City officials, including then-Mayor John Burkhart, parks and recreation director Nedra Short and parks superintendent Orville Howard, accepted the official big tree ownership certificate, which was awarded to the city July 1, 1992, from the Indiana Division of Forestry.

Luedeman hadn’t known the tree was ever on the registry, but it didn’t matter because of its condition, he said.

“It had taken multiple lightning strikes over the years, and it was just to the point where it was a public safety issue,” he said. “It hung over the volleyball courts and bleachers area, and if a branch had come off and fell during volleyball season, it could have seriously hurt or even killed someone.”

Luedeman said he put off cutting down the tree as long as he could, hoping it would “rejuvenate” itself. The city had a tree specialist come in who also recommended it be removed, Luedeman said.

“We didn’t want to cut it down, but there was no buds on the limbs this year, and it was hollow all the way through,” he said.

Karen Phillips, who lives on North Park Drive across from where the tree stood, said she was sad to see it go. She said she has looked at the tree every day since 1971 when she moved into her home.

“But I was prepared,” she said. “I knew some of the limbs had come down, but it’s just a shame it couldn’t be saved.”

Over the winter, a limb broke off and had to be sawed into pieces and cleaned up.

“We’re just lucky it happened during the winter and no one was near it because the limb itself was the size of a small tree,” Luedeman said.

It’s not known exactly how old the tree was, but Luedeman said it had stood there for at least a century.

“We weren’t even able to get a ring from it to have it dated because of its condition,” he said.

Although there are no immediate plans to replace the tree, Luedeman said if a new tree is chosen, it would have to be planted farther away from the volleyball and basketball courts.

The swamp chestnut oak, so named because the area it grew in once was swampy, isn’t the only tree in Jackson County on the Indiana Big Tree Registry.

Another tree, a Chinquapin oak owned by Garry Ritz in rural Seymour, is the largest of its species. All trees included on the registry must be native to Indiana.

Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.