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BIG Trees of Lake Ouachita!

  In 2015 a BIG tree program was initiated at Lake Ouachita.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers supported and adopted this program at the Lake Ouachita Project, Arkansas.  The BIG tree program was initiated to document and preserve the very small percentage (<.1%) of truly big trees remaining in forests managed by the Corps around Lake Ouachita.  Such trees are native hardwoods and pines with a circumference of 8-10 feet or greater.  At Lake Ouachita 21 large trees have now been documented with the largest being a Sugarberry over 13 feet in circumference!

  These few remaining large trees are a living legacy of the natural and cultural history of the Ouachita Mountains and the State of Arkansas.  Remaining large trees are very rare to find in most areas and they provide a special opportunity for environmental education and conservation efforts.  Such trees are easily 100-300 years old or older and are living museums and monuments!  The presence of large trees in Corp's campgrounds, recreational areas and along trails can be highlighted for visitors and the public.  The importance, aesthetic value and preservation of such majestic trees can also add to the positive outdoor experience and memories of visitors to Corp's lands for many years and generations to come.

  The significance of large trees in Arkansas also reaches beyond the Lake Ouachita Project.  Several other agencies and organizations support large tree preservation and documentation projects in the state.  The U.S. Forest service, Southern Research Station operates the "Ancient Big and Historical Trees of Arkansas" program.  Portions of this program are also endorsed and supported by the USACE.  The Arkansas Forestry Commission operates the "Arkansas Champion Tree Program".  PBS and the Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN) produced a one hour documentary film about the largest trees in Arkansas entitled "Champion Trees" and in 2014 this film won two Emmy awards.  The Arkansas Native Plant Society operates the "I Love Champion Trees" program.  The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture also operates the "Famous and Historic Tree program".

  Within this page I have included an article from the Corp's Ranger Update publication that gives more information about the BIG tree program.  I have also included information about other agencies and organizations within Arkansas that have programs related to big trees. 

  I'd like to sincerely thank the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for supporting and adopting this program.  Individuals at the Lake Ouachita Project initially supported the BIG tree program and provided assistance.  I'd like to specifically thank Derick Walker, Joe Bailey, Pam Herrin, Amy Shultz, Shannon Herrin, Dustin Thomason, Mike Wade, Byron Erickson, Derek Lynch, Daniel Adams and Bill Jackson.    

(Below) "Sugarberry" tree (Celtis laevigata).  Hwy 27 campground, Lake Ouachita, AR.  Measures 13 ft., 1 inch in circumference! 

The BIG Tree of Life!  This massive Sugarberry supports dozens of other species.  Found living along its colossal trunk and large branches are mosses, lichens, Resurrection fern, Smilax briars, Poison Ivy, a variety of grasses, English Ivy, Fence lizards, numerous birds, squirrels and more!  A small Red Cedar tree even grows at the point of where it's spacious branches split apart skyward.     

                           Perspectives from a New Park Ranger

                                         By Karl Studenroth

                                               Park Ranger

                                  Lake Ouachita Field Office 

As a new Park Ranger, just recently beginning my career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, I am pleased and honored to have been selected to work at Lake Ouachita in Arkansas. Many years ago during a visit to Central Arkansas I documented a number of interesting plant and animal species and remembered the beauty of the Ouachita Mountains, I never imagined I would be returning to this area to work as a Park Ranger one day. It is now my goal to contribute a high degree of excellence and dedication to the Corps, Vicksburg District and Lake Ouachita.

It has been my observation that the Corps already provides outstanding assistance and service to visitors and the general public. As a Federal Agency, the Corps is tasked with a wide range of many important and critical responsibilities. Along with accomplishing the vital mission assigned to the Corps, it is important to remain proactive, always looking for ways to improve and enhance services we provide to visitors and the public.

As a new Park Ranger, one of my primary responsibilities has been to participate in the project's Visitor Assistance Program, patrolling recreation areas, providing information about the area and facilities to the visiting public, plus reminding visitors to always remain aware of the outstanding natural resources around them and how to protect them. Along with visitor assistance, the Corps has been tasked with a broad range of natural resource management and in many ways the two are intertwined. For example, one of the most important tasks of the Corps is flood control and wetlands management. Both of these greatly impact society and nature in multiple ways, be they positive or negative. As an agency that is assigned both public recreation and natural resource management responsibilities, finding a balance can be difficult. But, in many ways, better resource management leads to better visitor assistance, recreational opportunities and public benefits.

Ideally, to properly, ecologically manage any given area it is necessary to know all aspects of that area. This includes game species, non-game species (vertebrates & invertebrates), rare and endangered species, ecosystems or habitat types (especially sensitive and rare habitats), fire dependency and frequency, exotics species present and their impact, and more. The condition, status and trends of these areas should also be monitored and managed. When broken down all this may seem like a great deal of additional work, but in many ways the Corps already accomplishes these tasks.

In reality minor changes or additions can go a long ways and have pay-offs that far outweigh the minimal amount of time that is invested. An example of such an activity is BIG trees! An inventory and list of large trees is something that can be completed on Corps lands that requires very little time and effort of the project staff. Thankfully and with the support of the Staff at Lake Ouachita, I have initiated this project at Lake Ouachita.

Through history, Corps lands surrounding Lake Ouachita have been logged many times over the years. Logging companies from Iowa, Washington and Oregon moved into this area to begin harvesting the virgin timber from the mountainsides. Dierks Lumber Company and the Caddo River Lumber Company were two of the largest logging companies that harvested a majority of the timber. While Dierks Lumber Company was one of the largest land owner in the State of Arkansas, the company established one of the largest sawmills in Mountain Pine around 1928, just east of Blakely Mountain Dam, in order to be close to the timber resources and reduce the distance to haul the logs for the mill. In 1969, Dierks Lumber Company sold all their holdings to Weyerhaeuser, who maintained the mill in Mountain Pine until 2008 before closing it. The Caddo River Lumber Company constructed railroad trams and right-of-ways through-out the Ouachita Mountains, which remnants can still be seen today, establishing large "mill towns" that were moved on these same railroads once the timber had been depleted from an area.

While a majority of the "BIG" trees were harvested, there are still some remaining large trees, while very rare to find in most areas, they provide a special opportunity for environmental education and conservation efforts. Simple lists or databases of large trees should include trees at least 8-10 feet in circumference. Such trees are easily 100-300 years old or older and are living museums and monuments! At Lake Ouachita 15 large trees have already been documented with the largest being a Sugarberry over 13 feet in circumference!

Information collected for such a database can include: scientific name, common name, circumference, crown-spread, height, date measured, county, location, latitude/longitude, comments, etc. Compiling such lists can be completed while doing forestry or other natural resource projects, or by interviewing Corps employees and only takes a few minutes of time.

Champion and large tree programs exist in most states and additional information can be found from state forestry commissions, the U.S. Forest Service and other organizations. Brochures can also be completed about these special trees and small signs or markers can be placed by them for visitors and educational efforts. Another aspect of trees for educational efforts is their importance in wetlands and in erosion control, especially on Corp's lands.

The presence of large trees in Corps campgrounds, recreational areas and along trails can be highlighted for visitors. The importance, aesthetic value and preservation of such majestic trees can also add to the positive outdoor experience and memories of visitors to Corps lands for many years and generations to come.


(Above) A diagram showing how to properly measure the circumference of a BIG tree. 

BIG Tree Links

U.S. Forest Service: Ancient, Big, and Historical Trees of Arkansas

Arkansas Forestry Commission: Arkansas Champion Trees

AETN/PBS: Champion Trees

Arkansas Native Plant Society: I Love Champion Trees

The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture: Famous and Historic Tree Program

Pg. 11: I really "Lichen" them!