Earlier this year, Great Falls resident Bob Vickers retired from the CIA, which left him with some newfound time on his hands. This worked out well for the Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA) Heritage Tree Census.
“Bob Vickers nominated a huge chunk of these trees,” said Bill Canis, chair of the Heritage Tree Census Project committee. “We would still have had a lot even if he hadn’t done it, but he was really vital to our exposure. He’s a biker and a runner and went down to the river on trails we’d never even heard of before.”
Announced last fall, the Heritage Tree Census Project challenged local residents to submit nominations for the largest trees in Great Falls. When Vickers, a 30-year resident of Great Falls and a 25-year member of the international running group Great Falls Hash House Harriers, heard about the Tree Census, he decided that he might as well investigate the trees he passed regularly during his runs and bike rides along the Potomac River.
“When I was entering my pre-retirement mode I had some extra time, and I’ve done a lot of runs and biking myself along the river, so I thought, well, I won’t look in everyone’s backyards, but I’ll try and look along Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority land.”
Vickers is not sure exactly how many trees he nominated, but he does know that about two-thirds of the winning nominations came from him.
“He showed me some of those trees along the river and they took my breath away,” said Canis.
THE HERITAGE TREE CENSUS committee accepted nominations of local trees through June 2007 and announced the Heritage Tree Census winners at the annual Fourth of July Hometown Celebration in the Great Falls Village Center.
“I thought it went great,” said Canis of the awards ceremony and conclusion of the project. “We had 24 tree species and we had a winner for each one, and then we had runners-up.”
The largest tree that Vickers found was an American Sycamore 262 inches in circumference — approximately 16 feet around.
“It’s enormous,” said Vickers, who admitted that participating in the Tree Census has turned him into somewhat of a “tree connoisseur.”
“Once I got into this, I started to get a little obsessive,” he said. “I learned a lot and I’ve become a little bit more of that person who goes to someone’s house and tells them what a lovely black cherry tree they have, and they’re thinking ‘who is this guy?’ But once you recognize things like that, they kind of stand out to you.”
Since one of the primary goals of the Heritage Tree Census Project was to generate community awareness and appreciation of what Canis and many others believe to be one of Great Falls’ greatest attributes — its many sizable, old trees — Vickers’ newfound interest in trees was wonderful news to Canis and his fellow committee members.
“I thought it was great because there were a lot of people who were not necessarily engaged in the community in any other way, but they participated and they showed up for this,” he said. “I just thought it was a wonderful ‘home-towney’ kind of thing.”
THIS FALL, Vickers has promised to personally escort any interested groups down to the trails along the Potomac to show people the gargantuan trees that he nominated. He also accepted an invitation to become a member of the Fairfax County Tree Commission.
Heritage Tree Census Project winners were each given certificates designed by Great Falls Citizens Association member Sue Bennet, as well as commemorative t-shirts. The Tree Census project was also sponsored by five local landscapers via Brogue Charities.
Canis said it was heart-warming to hear people share their personal stories at the awards ceremony.
“You know, people would get up there and say ‘that tree was there when my father-in-law bought the place in 1941,’” said Canis. “So it was really great to hear everyone’s story.”
Local Girl Scout Brownie Troops also participated in the Census and submitted nominations.
As for Bob Vickers, who has already come out of retirement, the Heritage Tree Census has forever changed his routine runs and bike rides.
“Unfortunately it takes me longer to finish them because I keep stopping and looking at all the trees,” joked Vickers. “But it’s fun. Once you get into something like that, it’s really fun.”