Hedgesville family wins 15th annual Big Tree Contest with massive Black Walnut

The 2023 Big Tree Contest winner was J. Roland Gonano and his family for finding the largest Black Walnut tree in the Eastern Panhandle area, the species designated for this year’s annual and 15th year of the contest.

The tree had a circumference of 203 inches, a height of 71 feet, and a crown spread of 27 feet for a total that equals 301 points as measured by Forester Herb Peddicord. He has volunteered each year to scientifically measure the different entries in the contest.

This winning tree is located near Hedgesville on the F&G Farms. The Black Walnut tree is estimated to be over 400 years old, about one and a half centuries older than our country, and would have been alive when George W shington traveled to the Hedgesville area and visited the Snodgrass Tavern which is on the National Register of Historic Places and also when Edgar Allen Poe stayed there.

A 400-year-old Black Walnut on the Gonano farm won the 15th annual Big Tree Contest. Pictured, from left, are Forester Herb Peddicord, Roland Gonano, John Overington, Daniel Gonano and Jessica Gonano.
submitted photo

There is also a fascinating legend that during one of his visits to the area Washington took a walnut for the Black W alnut tree and threw it across Back Creek, resulting in a large walnut tree on the other side of the creek.

“I was proud to recognize the Gonano family and present Roland with a copy of Joyce Kilmer’s poem ‘Trees’ and a $500 check at the Eastern Panhandle Conservation District Annual Banquet Thursday, November 16,” Overington said.

The origin for this big tree contest came years ago from West Virginia Delegate John Overington’ s grandfather, Fred W . Besley — Maryland’s first state forester and the longest serving state forester for 36 years. He was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt to help determine whether forest land could be best managed through a state or federal system.

In 1924, Besley started the Big Tree Contest in Maryland and helped take it to a national level years later.

The purpose of this contest is to call attention to trees, to increase the public’ s ability to differentiate between different species of trees as well as recognizing their importance to the environment. As we humans use oxygen and give off carbon dioxide, trees and plants do the opposite.

“We started the contest in 2009 with Dan DeSarno finding a huge Sycamore tree outside of Ranson in Jefferson County and being the first winner when no specific tree species was designated. Since then, we have designated other types, including finding the largest oak, maple, birch, locust, wild cherry, magnolia, pine and other types with last year looking for the largest hackberry tree,” Overington said.