FARMINGTON — Some people look at a big oak tree in the backyard and see more than just a source of shade.

They see a jungle gym, a favorite picnic spot or maybe just the place where grandpa likes to tell stories.

This is what forester Patty Cormier has learned over the last month by visiting residents across Franklin County, where she is searching for the biggest and best examples of 149 different species of trees.

“People get quite reminiscent of the family history and connections to the tree and its historical ties to the community,” Cormier said. “They’ll just kind of go off into their history and it’s just so interesting to hear what stories they have.”

Inspired by the longstanding statewide contest to find big tree specimens, some tree enthusiasts decided to start a competition this summer just for residents in Franklin County, according to Cormier, who is a district forester for the Maine Forest Service.

More than 20 people have already called in, hopeful that their favorite tree is crowned best in the county — maybe even in the state or country.

The tallest entry so far is a 96-foot white pine tree along the shoreline of Porter Lake in New Vineyard, and many other tree species have been entered so far by residents, she said.

Melanie Farmer entered a 66-foot-tall oak tree in front of her store, Classic Gallery & Framing, on Wilton Road in Farmington.

She isn’t quite as sentimental about her tree — it’s just something else to take care of, she said — but Farmer knows her customers would miss the giant oak if she ever cut it down.

“People wouldn’t miss it until it was gone. They’d say, ‘What’s different about this place?'” she said, standing in the cool shade of the tree, keeping out of the hot midday sun on Thursday.

People can call in a big tree until midnight on July 23 and winners will be announced for each of the different species. Cormier said they can call her at 592-2238 or email her at [email protected] to have a tree measured and entered in the contest.

The winners — based on a formula that measures height, circumference and diameter — will pick from several prizes.

The Farmington Conservation Commission helped organize the contest, according to Cormier.

Most of the big trees have been reported by homeowners, camp owners and farmers, but the contest also allows people to report trees from public places or parks.

Maine’s biggest tree contest was started in 1968 to raise awareness of trees’ role in the forest ecosystem, according to Cormier, who has been a district forester for 12 years.

There is also a U.S. Forest Service registry for biggest trees nationwide, which include several trees in Maine, she said.

Past winners from Maine include a 125-foot-tall pine in Morrill, and an 80-foot-tall red oak in Mount Vernon, which was taken off the list last year because lightning obliterated all its branches.

Keeping track of the biggest trees, while fun for residents, is vital to preserving the delicate forest ecosystems, Cormier said.

Years of logging and farming have left Maine with fewer old-growth trees than in the past, so recording and protecting the biggest trees is part of forest management, Cormier said.

“It’s good for the diversity in forests, for wildlife. These big (trees) are kind of nurses for the smaller, next generation of trees coming up,” she said.

Everything from the economy to wildlife depends on sound forest management practices, according to Cormier.

“It’s the brand of Maine,” she said. “For example, the forest up in Rangeley, the pines, that’s what it’s all about. It’s hard to imagine what life would be like without them.”

David Robinson — 861-9287

[email protected]

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