Webster Springs, WV "Big Sycamore"   Will Blozan
  May 07, 2005 09:43 PDT 

I was reading through Colby Rucker's list of big trees by State in
preparation for the trip to Pennsylvania for the Cook Forest Rendezvous. I
was interested in West Virginia since we have almost no tree data from the
entire state, aside from Cathedral State Park. I came across Colby's
description of the Webster Springs Sycamore, a massive tree listed as the
"largest tree in WV" and the "largest sycamore in the World". Colby also
inferred that based on wood volume, it may be "one of the largest trees in
the east". Curious, I proposed to my travel mates (Jess Riddle and Ron
Busch) that we try to find it and take measurements. On our way back from
Cook we found the tree.

wv_snow_load.jpg (55765 bytes) WV Snow Load

We were impressed that there was actually a brochure (titled simply "Big
Sycamore") about the tree in the West Virginia Welcome Center off the
interstate. The photos were impressive and the directions easy to follow
(even though the map indicated that the roads were straight!). Driving
though blinding snow and hill after hill of nauseating twists, we arrived at
the cute town of Webster Springs, WV. The brochure map gave directions up a
dirt road along the Back Fork of the Elk River. The road ended in a
turn-around with a suspension bridge over the river and several interpretive
signs. The "Sycamore Park" had a pavilion and picnic/BBQ areas and a sign
with the following information on it:

Total height                   139'

Circumference               24.7'

Height to forks               86.5'

Approximate age            500 years

Hemlock in forks            7.4' (tall)

Crown spread                100.1'

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Overall, the information was quite accurate, but the epiphytic hemlock was
dead. The girth listed above was taken at 4.5' upslope, and the midslope
girth was substantially bigger. Here are the numbers we obtained:

Total height                   144.3'

Circumference (mid)       28.7' (344")

Height to forks               78.3'

Approximate age            WHO KNOWS?

Hemlock in forks            Dead

Crown spread                102'

AF Points=                    514

This is the first eastern single-stemmed hardwood ENTS has verified to over
500 big tree points as far as I can recall. I do not know the numbers of
some of the GA live oaks, though. Only bald cypress (the Senator Cypress for
one) beats it. Perhaps cherrybark has a slim chance of reaching 500 points
somewhere, but sycamore may be the only eastern hardwood capable of 500 big
tree points.

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Webster Sycamore - View Up the trunk

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Webster Sycamore from across the stream

What was so surprising was that this tree is a forest grown specimen, but it
was not in a floodplain forest. In fact, it was in a mountain cove forest at
~1800' elevation in a cove hardwood forest. Red elm, basswood, shagbark
hickory, umbrella magnolia, and tuliptree accompany the tree which is
growing out of a rich bed of wildflowers. I suspect the soil is neutral or
basic in acidity and may be limestone derived.

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Webster Sycamore with Jess at base

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Webster Sycamore sideslope view

We took numerous girth measurements and rangefinder girths at various points
on the trunk to obtain an estimate of volume. Jess and I estimated on-site
that it would be close to 3000ft3. We were not far off, as a figure of 3009
ft3 was obtained by entering the numbers into a spreadsheet. The point on
the trunk just below the first limbs was 19.1 feet in girth at a height of
60'. The point of breakage (78') - which was a huge portion of the crown-,
was still over 13' in girth. The tree was likely close to 3500 ft3 before
breakage- if the top was intact. Currently, the crown is represented by just
four limbs (see photo). Some of these limbs are tentatively attached to
decayed wood with no living bark above them. Height in its prime may have
reached 160'.

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View through the trunk

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Will inside the trunk cavity

I feel this tree, with its tentative perch and strong lean on a thin shell
of wood, should be climbed and mapped before it fails. It is truly a massive
specimen- joining the ranks with tuliptree as a forest giant. Will it
surpass the volume of the Sunderland Sycamore? Any other big contenders?
Sounds like a worthwhile project to me!

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Ron and Jess at base


UTM 17 556093E 4263469N, 1800' Elevation

Will Blozan

Jess Riddle

Ron Busch