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Crowning the kings of Colorado's forests
About one mile up the Hermosa Creek Trail, a vista opened straight ahead to reveal a towering ponderosa pine silhouetted against the sky.
“There it is,” said Robert Leverett, a co-founder of the Native Tree Society, an international assemblage held together by disparate interests in trees. “This is a champion tree.”
Leverett, who has a degree in engineering from Georgia Tech, taught computer science and statistics at Holyoke Community College in Massachusetts for 24 years. His passion is pinning down the height of trees within a centimeter and other tree data for scientific research and historical documentation.
“Anywhere I go, I measure trees,” Leverett said during the Hermosa Creek outing Thursday. “It’s compulsive. I’m obsessed.”
Leverett knew about the champion ponderosa from previous visits to Southwest Colorado. But he wanted an exact height, which was obtainable only with the highest-quality laser range finder.
He also wanted precise heights of a blue spruce and a Douglas fir that rise skyward only a few hundred yards from the ponderosa. Both are champion trees, too.
The trees represent the pinnacle of growth of their respective species in the Rocky Mountain biome, which stretches from British Colombia to New Mexico, he said.
“This drainage produces hellish trees,” Leverett said. “I can’t say there aren’t champions in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in New Mexico, but I haven’t found them.”
The tallest trees probably will be found in Colorado because of the climate, he said. The availability of water in the Hermosa Creek drainage makes it a logical habitat, he said.