Believed to be New York’s tallest measured tree, 174-foot white pine rises above hundreds of giants
By Chloe Bennett
Erik Danielson was fairly certain he would find some tall trees when he drove from his home in Chautauqua County to Bolton last Saturday. Digital data from the state showed there was a grove of mostly white pine trees just off State Route 9N that reached unusual heights. He was right.
After setting up camp not far from Lake George, it took Danielson about an hour to find the tallest measured tree in the state: A white pine measuring 174 feet 3 inches.
“I was elated,” he said. “I don’t know, I tend to be kind of quiet in the woods, so I didn’t let out a whoop or anything.”
Homage to fallen giant
Adirondack Explorer board member Charlotte Hall wrote an ode to Tree 103. Believed to be one of the tallest trees in the state, Tree 103 toppled in December 2021 after spending its life as part of a group of giant white pines known as “Elder’s Grove,” near Paul Smith’s College’s Visitor Information Center.
Fallen Tree 103. Photo courtesy of Philip Paige.
The previous title holder, which he also found, stood 164 feet 7 inches in 2020 near Ampersand Mountain.
To measure the trees, Danielson uses the sine top/sine bottom or Eastern Native Tree Society method which uses a laser and a clinometer. The laser measures the distance to the top of the tree and the clinometer measures angles. The technique was created by co-founder of the Native Tree Society Bob Leverett, who met and taught Danielson the method seven years ago.
“I have been incredibly impressed with his growth,” Leverett said. “I mean, he just took off like a rocket and he’s one of the people whose measurements I trust.”
Danielson, 31, was educated in the forest, opting for a hands-on experience over college. His career is wide-ranging, from pasture management to outreach for NYC Compost Project. Now he is the stewardship coordinator for the Western New York Land Conservancy where he manages conservation lands. When he’s not working or checking out smaller plants, he’s measuring trees.
Initially, Danielson calculated the tall white pine at 172 feet 2 inches. But part of the sine method involves measuring trees from different viewing angles and finding repeatability in the numbers, which increased the overall height. “I’m very confident that it is the tallest, accurately measured tree in New York State,” he said.
The stand of trees Danielson was measuring and camping underneath are uniquely tall for their species and age. The grove is not old-growth, which is normally home to giants like the fallen Tree 103 at Paul Smiths, but likely between 120 to 180 years old, Danielson said. White pines can reach 130 feet, but this grove could be home to hundreds that are 150 feet or more.
“I’m hoping there might be around 300,” he said.
Sheltered by cliffs, the trees were likely able to grow protected from wind that could damage them or pull moisture from the air, resulting in above average heights. The plant diversity confirmed the quality of the forest for Danielson, who said camping near the tree was like being on a “wildlife super highway.”
“Something like a 170 foot tall white pine in New York today is about as rare as, say a queen snake, which is one of our most endangered reptiles,” he said.
Measuring trees can be useful for data collection that is used for climate change studies, Danielson said. Conservation funds also tend to be concentrated on habitats and plants that are rare, like the white pine grove near Bolton.
Before the end of his trip, Danielson measured 100 trees around the area and many towered over 150 feet. But the tallest of them, a tree he has nicknamed Little Foot Pine for its small base, sticks out the most.