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Meet the Ohio man searching for the state's biggest trees

A man with a backpack and hiking stick stands in front of the trunk of a massive tree
Big Trees Ohio Facebook
Marc DeWerth has a passion for big trees. He's found many during his outdoor adventures in Ohio, including four current national champions — the biggest trees of their species in the country.

Marc DeWerth is on a mission.

From forests to river valleys, farms to private properties, he’s scouring the state in search of some of Ohio’s oldest living things: big trees.

“There are gems, monster-sized trees hidden everywhere you can think,” he said. “It’s just a matter of thinking outside the box to find them.”

So far, he’s found some behemoths, from the 114-foot-tall eastern cottonwood in northeast Ohio to a sycamore with a 430-inch circumference in the southwest.

“I mean, the stem on that is just absolutely massive,” DeWerth said. “Trees like sycamores, they love to be by water. And if they sit there for many years, they just get bigger and bigger and bigger.”

To him, trees aren’t just a pastime, they’re a lifeline — literally releasing oxygen into the air, sheltering bugs and birds and standing tall for generations.

“One large tree can outproduce 50 tiny trees,” he said. “They’re beautiful. They’re big. They’re discussion pieces.”

The start of the search

DeWerth describes himself as an avid outdoorsman.

“I'm constantly hiking and searching Ohio's deep forests for just about any kind of subject matter possible,” he said. “And it seems like I always stumble upon these trees.”

The gnarled trunk of a tree with white bark towers into the sky.
Big Trees Ohio Facebook
A European beech tree in Stark County towers into the sky.

He started taking pictures of them and posting his finds to personal social media pages. They quickly gained traction.

“People were overwhelming me with questions about them,” he said.

So DeWerth made separate Facebook and Instagram pages just for trees, called Big Trees Ohio.

“From there, it just went bonkers,” he remembered.

Years later, he now has tens of thousands of followers on both platforms, and he estimates that he’s documented over 1,500 big trees. Some of which, he said, the state had never recorded.

Teaching about trees

Many of the big trees DeWerth has found grow on private property. When he spots them, he’s quick to knock on owners’ doors. Most people he meets are excited to talk about their trees.

“A lot of times they don't know what kind of tree it is, so they want to learn more,” DeWerth said. “And once you clean the area up and they realize what they have, then they become what I call ‘proud big tree owners'. They go on to keep maintaining it, and I will give them advice on what they can do to keep the tree healthy.”

Often, DeWerth will also report his finds to the Ohio Division of Forestry’s Big Tree Program, a volunteer-led effort to measure and record the largest trees of every species in the state.

Four of the trees DeWerth has found in Ohio are current national champions — the biggest trees of their species in the country. These trees don’t receive any special protection, but they do offer valuable insight, DeWerth said.

“It gives you an idea of what's growing in what areas of the state, which species are dominant, subdominant and codominant and what species are only growing in certain regions, maybe due to climate zones or soil quality.”

All along the way, DeWerth shares his discoveries online, posting daily pictures of big trees and hoping his enthusiasm for them catches.

“When you have something that makes you happy and smile,” he said, “it's going to make you want to plant more of them and continue propagating them.”

That’s exactly what he wants: to ensure big trees are around for future generations to find too.

Erin Gottsacker is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently reported for WXPR Public Radio in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.