2007-02-22 / Front Page

Tie a tape measure 'round the old oak tree

Trees already entered in contest date as far back as 1719
BY VINCENT TODARO Staff Writer

BY VINCENT TODARO
Staff Writer

Above: This large white oak, from a backyard on Helena Street, measures 181 at its circumference. It is believed to be 288 years old. At right: This red oak was found near Fresh Ponds Road. It measures 154 inches and likely started growing around 1835. Pictured with the tree is Lois Moskowitz, whose husband David is on the Environmental Commission.Above: This large white oak, from a backyard on Helena Street, measures 181 at its circumference. It is believed to be 288 years old. At right: This red oak was found near Fresh Ponds Road. It measures 154 inches and likely started growing around 1835. Pictured with the tree is Lois Moskowitz, whose husband David is on the Environmental Commission. EAST BRUNSWICK - The largest tree in town could be right in your own backyard.

It could be in a forest, on a farm or on the side of a street - even members of the township's Environmental Commission don't know. And that's exactly why they're asking residents to break the suspense by participating in its Big Tree Contest.

The freezing weather that took hold as soon as the contest began a few weeks back has not stopped residents from sending numerous entries thus far.

One was a large white oak submitted by a resident of Helena Street, off Old Bridge Turnpike. The tree in the backyard measures 181 inches at its circumference 4.5 feet from the ground, giving it an estimated age of 288 years. This would mean it began growing in 1719.

Another entry was for a huge red oak on Fresh Ponds Road, measuring at 154 inches and dating it to about 1835.

And on the opposite end of town, a resident of River Road entered a 174-inch sycamore that stands a few feet from the South River. Its approximate age is 194 years old.

"I'm sure the entries we have so far are just the tip of the iceberg," commission member David Moskowitz said. "There are definitely many, many more large trees just waiting to be found of lots of different species."

The contest will run until the end of May.

Residents can send in photos of themselves standing next to the tree they believe to be the largest. The entries will be posted on the commission's Web site, www.njnaturenotes.com.

The awards in the contest are copies of a "Petersen Field Guide to Trees" and will be given to those who identify the largest tree in each species. Commission member Richard Wolfert noted they have to be separated by category because some trees, such as white oaks, grow to be very large, while others, like the American holly, do not.

Wolfert said commission members themselves have no idea where the largest tree may be.

"We didn't go out on the town measuring," he said.

Moskowitz said he feels East Brunswick is very fortunate to have so many large trees.

"It is actually very common to see trees around town that are in the 100-year or older range," Moskowitz said. "It's funny, until we began the Big Tree Contest and I started looking around, I just never noticed how many large trees we have."

While the cold weather tends to discourage people from measuring trees, Wolfert noted that this is a good time to search because the trees don't have leaves to obscure them.

Help in identifying tree species is available in a pamphlet available for a small fee from the commission.

Wolfert did give some tips on where to look - areas near Farrington Lake or Ireland Brook Park, old farm properties that have gone untouched, and around old homes.

"There's a lot of places you can look," he said, stressing that people should get permission from the owner before entering any private properties.

The commission members are anxious to find out not just where the largest tree is but how many species will be entered.

But ultimately, members said the main intent of the contest is to get as many people as possible out and enjoying nature.

"You create stewards of the environment," Wolfert said.

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