On September 4, 2010, my wife, my son, and I visited the Cathedral Pines grove in the Nicolet National Forest near Lakewood in northeastern Wisconsin's Oconto County. I intended to remeasure the two tallest known eastern white pine trees in the grove. The area is a virgin grove that was set aside by the Holt and Balcom Logging Company around 1880 when Lucy Rumsey Holt, the wife of W.A. Holt, the company president, asked that the tract be spared so that she could continue to conduct bible study classes with her children there. Pines are now reported in the 200-400 year old range.
The grove is a part of a larger State Natural Area and has a popular hiking trail looping through it. It is the largest dense white pine grove in Wisconsin and is dominated by eastern white pine with many in the range of 9-10 feet in girth and 125-135 feet tall. There are some red pine to 90-100 feet tall and many hemlocks under 100 feet. The forest also contains a significant beech-maple-yellow birch component along with some red oak, aspen, as well as some other trees. The entire approximately 22 acre virgin pine grove is at an elevation of approximately 1340 feet, plus or minus 10 feet. With over 100 nests, a great blue heron rookery's droppings are killing off the taller trees on the highest ground but make for an enhanced experience during visits in May and June before the fledgelings leave the nests in early July. It is a nesting site for ovenbirds, blackburnian, magnolia, and pine warblers, The best time to visit for tall tree hunting is mid-October through the first week of May when the deciduous sub-canopy is not a visual obstacle. On the coldest winter days, visitors are virtually nonexistent while the grove effectively tames light winds so that the bitter temperatures are more tolerable.
I had spent a few days in December of 1999 scouring this grove for it's tallest trees. During that visit, overnight lows approached -30 F with highs around -10 F with fresh unbroken knee-high snow on the ground. With no other visitors, I was able to use GPS, compass, and my footprints in the snow to walk a near perfect grid throughout the entire grove and then the surrounding forest. After finding dozens of trees in the 130-140 foot range, I then started ignoring trees that were under 140'. In the northwestern part of the grove, I found the only two trees whose tops I could reach with laser that exceeded 140 feet in height. One was 145.4 feet tall with a 112 inch girth and other one was 149.6 feet tall with a girth of 127 inches. With a little more searching, I was able to get a height of 150.2' on the bigger one. This proved to be the only tree in Wisconsin that I have measured over 150 feet tall until Lee and I hit 165 feet on a 13 foot girth white pine in the Menominee Tribal Enterprises private reservation forest about 20 miles southwest of the Cathedral Pines. In 1999, I was measuring pine girths at 4.5 feet above the highest contact point with the earth. Unfortunately, on the biggest tree there was some taper, so my incorrectly high point of measure reduced it's girth considerably from what would be expected. Additionally, I misread my original notes. The tree was not 127 inches but was 12' 7", with my notes showing a faint dent where the pencil lead had broken when making the foot mark, '. Soon after, I was tutored by ENTS on ignoring earth upheaved by centuries of root growth and instead examine the immediate surrounding terrain for the expected point from which the seed would have sprouted.
On this trip, I took the direct route to these trees. We headed downhill along the road from the Cathedral Pines trailhead parking lot. When the road hit it's lowest point in the immediate drainage, we headed to the north following the lower limit of the drainage and walked it up right to the trees where the dense underbrush opens up to an open forest floor under a dense hemlock canopy with a white pine supercanopy. We found a dense 100 square foot patch of spotted coralroot orchids that had just finished blooming. I noticed that a trail had been cut to within about 40 yards of the trees that was a short loop extension leading to the groves "Cathedral" area somewhat to the southeast of these trees. The main loop on the hill in the grove had been graveled over. I hope that there is no limestone content in that gravel, but, unfortunately, I am a poor geologist.
This time, using girth measurements to proper ENTS standards, I was pleasantly surprised by the numbers that were obtained. Now, the thicker tree had a height of 154.3 feet and a girth of 158" = 13.2 feet or over 50 inches DBH. This is the largest girth of a single stemmed tree measured by ENTS in Wisconsin that is still living. The height measurement was from the place of the lower previous measurement since the sub-canopy obscures the top from the other place of measurement at this time of the year. This showed a height increase of 4.7 feet over 11 growing seasons. The thinner tree is about 10-15 yards west-northwest of the thicker pine. The thinner tree had a height of 154.8 feet and a girth of 124 inches = 10.3 feet. This is a height increase of 9.4 feet in 11 growing seasons on the younger, thinner tree.
These are the two tallest white pines in Wisconsin outside of the Menominee Indian Reservation. The next time that I return to the Cathedral Pines, I might try to relocate a 7.5 foot growth white pine that had bent over from heavy snow and had a curving trunk length of about 160'. Also, there are some other pines near the two that I measured that are now probably over 140'.