By Richard Stich, Plum Creek Timber Company
At 136 feet tall and almost three feet in diameter, the National Champion Shortleaf Pine Tree survived scores of natural disasters during its roughly 200 year lifespan – but when a severe thunderstorm rolled through southeast Arkansas, a mighty downburst snapped the champion 50 feet above the ground. The champion grew in the Wilcoxon Demonstration Forest, a parcel of timberland that was set aside in 1939 by The Crossett Company, who owned the land and operated a lumber mill, so that future generations could witness what the southern piney woods looked like prior to settlement. Since then, the land has changed hands several times, but each owner has protected the Wilcoxon Forest.
The champion tree has had many admirers, including Linda Palmer, an artist with the National Museum of Women in the Arts, who included the shortleaf in her exhibit Arkansas Champion Trees: An Artists Journey. “We notified Ms. Palmer and she was heartbroken,” said Peter Remoy, resource manager with Plum Creek Timber Company, who owns the Wilcoxon forest. “The champion shortleaf has been one of the favorites of people viewing the exhibit.” Plum Creek is one of the largest private landowners in the United States with over 6.37 million acres in 19 states.
After the destruction of the champion shortleaf, foresters with Plum Creek took action to carry on the legacy of this special tree. “We didn’t feel that it was appropriate to send such a unique tree to a typical sawmill to be sawn into commodity two-by-fours,” said Remoy. “We wanted to find a craftsman sawyer who had the equipment to create unique lumber from this exceptional tree.” Plum Creek contacted Joe Terral, who has owned and operated B & T Sawmill, with his partner, William Bumgardner since 1988. Joe started out with a Wood-Mizer Manual LT40 sawmill and in 1995, upgraded to a LT40 Hydraulic portable sawmill. Joe, a member of the Wood-Mizer Million Board Foot Club, primarily saws custom orders for local landowners and businesses.
Originally, Joe and William would move the sawmill to where the timber was being cut, but in 1990, he found a permanent location in Sterlington, Louisiana. The mill’s bread-and-butter species is cypress, but Joe will cut just about anything, sawing about 350,000 to 400,000 board feet of lumber per year. “The champion was a beautiful log,” said Joe. “The rings are tight, and there’s a slight twist to the log that makes beautiful grain patterns. The Wood-Mizer handled the log perfectly and I was able to cut one and two inch boards up to 24 inches wide.”
Various projects to use the lumber are scheduled to preserve the history of the champion tree for years to come. “Some of the lumber will be crafted into a conference table for the office,” stated Remoy. “We are also looking at framing Ms. Palmer’s National Champion Shortleaf Pine artwork in wood from the tree itself.”
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