AUGUSTA — Abbott Ladd dedicated his life to woodlands, working as a forester for about 30 years and managing two certified tree farms.

He and his wife, Miriam Ladd, were honored as the 2013 Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year on Wednesday for their 120-acre Belgrade tree farm during the Maine Agricultural Trades Show at the Augusta Civic Center.

Abbott Ladd died last March at age 86. Miriam Ladd accepted the award, along with two of their children, Jeffrey and Debra Ladd, and other family and friends.

Abbott is credited as one of the first people to get tree farming going in the state, according to Patty Cormier, a forester for Maine State Forest Service covering Franklin County and most of Somerset County.

“We don’t have numbers for it, but he was the reason quite a few folks go into tree farming,” she said.

Miriam Ladd said that even with many other awards and honors, the Outstanding Tree Farmer award was the most important to her husband. The Ladds tied for the 2012 award with another farm, so the committee decided give the award to the Ladds this year, said Maine Tree Farm Committee Chair Richard Morse.

Before he died, Abbott Ladd was preparing his tree farm for the field day, which is held every year at the winner’s farm, Miriam Ladd said.

“It was kind of a culminating capstone for him even though he didn’t feel he was worthy for it,” said Jeffrey Ladd. “He’d, of course, rather someone else get it.”

Cormier, who served on the Maine Tree Farm Committee with Abbott for 16 years, was present for the award on Wednesday. She remembers Ladd calling her when he was nominated for the 2005 award to tell her that he wanted someone else to get it.

“We certainly wanted to give it to him, but he wasn’t going to take it,” Cormier said.

Abbott Ladd earned a degree in forestry from the University of Maine in 1951, after serving in the U.S. Navy and the Navy Reserve.

He spent nearly 30 years at Boise Cascade, formerly Oxford Paper Company, advising woodland owners as a tree farm family forester. Before that, he worked at the Maine Forest Service and Great Northern Paper Company.

Abbott served as the first executive director of the Small Woodlands Owners Association of Maine, a nonprofit that promotes woodland ownership, educates for better forest management and advocates on behalf of small woodland owners, and was a long-time member of the Maine Tree Farm Committee.

“He was a strong leader for the (tree farm) program,” said Morris. “He was involved in the inspection and certification of hundreds and hundreds of tree farms.”

Family farm

The land at 558 Manchester Road — Route 135 — has been in Miriam Ladd’s family since the mid-1800s. It used to be an apple farm, producing 16,000 barrels of apples a year at its peak. Ladd said her grandfather also used to raise livestock on the farm.

In 1956, Abbott talked Miriam’s mother into letting him plant 200 white pines on the land. Since then, they’ve planted nearly 27,000 pine, white and Norway spruce, and European larch trees on the land since then.

Many people know the Ladds through the Christmas trees they sell, which they’ve done since 1990. Even though they only opened for three weekends this past season, Miriam Ladd said they sold more than 200 trees.

“Dad’s big thing was it’s not really a business,” said Debra Ladd. “It’s something to share with families, so they have a place to get their own trees and have a good time out of it.”

She said that her father wanted people who came to make a family activity out of it and that one family has a small reunion each year when cutting down their trees.

Debra Ladd said Abbott would sculpt the Christmas trees, but make sure to not make them look like “cookie cutter trees.”

“They’re not perfect, but they look nice,” added her mother.

‘He would go out every day’

Jeffrey Ladd has taken over the management of the 120-acre tree farm with his two adult sons. He also has a degree in forestry from the University of Maine, but he took a different career path as principal of Winthrop Grade School.

He said one of his sons wants to start moving toward more maple syrup production. So far, they’ve been producing enough for themselves and gifts for others.

Jeffrey Ladd said the last night he spent with his father was boiling maple syrup. “We used to enjoy sitting around the fire and making syrup,” he said.

His father was “passionate and particular” about his tree farm — Abbott’s hobby, Jeffrey called it.

“It was daily for him, year-round,” he said. “It didn’t matter how cold or hot it was, he would go out every day.”

Paul Koenig — 621-5663
pkoenig@mainetoday.com