Meet the Maryland Big Tree Program Committee
John Bennet. Chair
I'm John Bennett, Chair of the Maryland Big Tree Program. I am a retired Maryland public school teacher and a member of the Cecil County Forestry Board. I became Chairman in 2007 when the Maryland Association of Forest Conservancy District Boards assumed responsibility for the operation of the MBTP. My favorite tree is the 333 point willow oak - BT-2073 - in Cecil County in Perryville at the historic Rodgers Tavern. The Tavern was built in the early 1700's at the Lower Ferry Crossing. Citizens arriving late in the day or in bad weather needed a place to stay until conditions were safe to take the small ferry across the mighty Susquehanna River, and the Tavern served this need. George Washington stayed overnight at the Tavern a number of times as General and later as President. The Tavern, surrounding park, picnic grounds, willow oak, and long pier jutting out into the Susquehanna are open to the public. The Tavern has limited hours; check on line before visiting.
Joli McCathran, Vice-Chair
Joli McCathran serves as Vice-Chair of the Maryland Big Tree Program and is on the Maryland Forestry Board Foundation. She is a member and Treasurer of the Montgomery County Forestry Board and the Champion Tree Coordinator, along with Joe Howard, for Montgomery County. Joli is also a member of American Forest’s National Cadre of Tree Measurers. She is a former Mayor of the Town of Washington Grove, and is also a member of the Gaithersburg-Washington Grove Garden Club. She resides in Washington Grove with her husband. Her hobbies include camping, sewing, canning produce and playing with her grandson. Her favorite tree is the “Goshen Elm” BT-0135, Ulmus procera. Although not native to North America, the tree likely originated in Kent, England and was brought to this area by settlers. It is the largest of its species world-wide.
Anne Hairston-Strang, DNR Liaison
Dawn Balinski, Treasurer
Dawn Balinski has been Treasurer of the Maryland Forestry Foundation since 2008 and has been a part of the Big Tree committee since 2016. She is also a member of the Calvert Forestry Board and enjoys participating in the measurement of local trees. As for her favorite tree, Dawn loves the willow oak that is prominent in a neighborhood in Owings - BT-2704.
Jim is a committee member of the Maryland Big Tree Program (MBTP), a member of its measuring crew, and aids in the identification of trees across the state. Upon moving to Maryland in 2004, he joined the Anne Arundel County Forestry Board and the Southern Maryland RC&D. By 2007, Jim began occasionally helping to identify and measure trees for MBTP and became co-VP of the State Forestry Board Association. Then after the untimely passing of Mel Noland in 2010. Jim became the Association President, as well as a member of the Maryland Forestry Foundation. In 2012, Jim and his spouse, Brenda, partnered with Southern Maryland RC&D to initiate an annual scholarship to benefit students in forestry and related fields. After finishing his Masters from Towson University in 2013, Jim became more involved in State Association’s Urban and Community Forestry Committee and then taught urban/community forestry at University of Maryland Eastern Shore from 2015-2019. He remains a student of dendrology, plant taxonomy, forestry and forest/wetland ecology, and dabbles in ethnobotany. Jim’s favorite trees are late successional, particularly old oaks of historical significance; however, Jim’s forte is in finding sizable representatives of the smaller species. Jim’s Eastern Shore home county of Caroline - not known for really big trees - has seen its big tree registry grow in species richness since 2018. By 2020, more champions came from the Bardsley’s forested 5-acres in Denton than any place else in Maryland.
Spring 2016 was my initiation into measuring Big Trees with the MD Big Tree volunteers. Having spent a career in landscaping, where one hardly ever sees a Really Big Tree, this was an exciting venture. We found or confirmed by remeasuring, 7 Baltimore Co. Champions that day, and I was hooked! Big tree owners are delightful, their trees are awesome, and the experience is extraordinary. Recommend! Although it is hard to choose a favorite, this Linden, Tilia americana - BT-1039 - comes close
Doug Inkley has a broad interest in nature, enjoys being outdoors, and likes to hunt for big trees. His interests in trees and forest management naturally flow from his family’s sugar bush in Vermont, with more than 9,000 taps. His professional background is in wildlife conservation. He spent his career at the National Wildlife Federation as their Senior Scientist. He worked on wildlife conservation policy development, lobbying and testifying before Congress, and was interviewed extensively by newspapers, e-news, radio, and television as a spokesperson and wildlife expert. Topics of expertise are diverse, including endangered species, wetlands, wildlife funding and management, invasive species, and climate change. Doug's favorite tree is Washington County's largest silver maple - BT-3275
Kathie Jarmon has volunteered with the Maryland Big Tree Program since 2010. She has worked at a family-owned heating and air conditioning company for over thirty years. She enjoys being outdoors and hiking with her two Labrador Retrievers at Fair Hill NRMA. She also spends time reading, gardening, cooking, practicing yoga, bicycling, and paddle boarding. She and her husband enjoy spending time at their lakeside cottage in northern Pennsylvania. They live on a property near Fair Hill, Maryland that has been in her family since 1916 and which is also home to one of her favorite trees, an Eastern Black Oak - BT-2183
Dori Murphy is a photographer for the Maryland Big Tree Program.
She has been a member of the team since 2008 and is also on the Cecil County Forestry Board.
Her favorite tree is BT-2043, a Chestnut Oak located in Elk Neck State Park in North East.
I'm Geary Schwemmer, former NASA engineer and recently retired from private industry after spending over four decades developing laser remote sensing (lidar) instruments. Each of those lidars would fill up a trailer or small aircraft. After retiring, I took up volunteering with the local chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation, planting and maintaining American chestnut hybrids in their greenhouse and orchards. Through one of their newsletters, I followed a website link to the Maryland Big Tree program. I’ve always liked trees and motorcycling, so I decided to seek out some of the nearby publicly accessible trees listed on the MD Big Tree Registry on my rides and I was immediately hooked. I started including big tree visits on most of my non-local travel as well. The next thing I know I'm the Maryland Big Tree volunteer for Carroll County. I joined the Carroll County Forestry Board to get more involved with other aspects of this most valuable resource we call trees. Now I'm using a lidar that fits in my pocket to measure tree heights. My former NASA colleagues should be impressed. When I'm not chasing trees, I'm "dancing" with my Doberman Pinscher, Jett, in agility rings and other canine performance activities, or riding and socializing with fellow members of the Baltimore Metro Chapter of HOG (Harley Owners Group), of which I'm currently the Director.
It’s hard to pick just one favorite tree, but two of my current ones are both yellow poplars, the first one stands watch over the old gravesites next to the historic Friends Meeting House in Sandy Springs. The second one shades the children’s playground, picnic, and swimming area at Oregon Ridge Park. I'm also very fond of large beeches, like the two purple ones on the Towson University campus.
I have measured trees with the Maryland Big Tree Program since 2014, but my interest in big trees goes back to childhood. One of my earliest memories involving trees was begging my mother to stop the car on a Sunday drive so I could get out and take a picture of a huge, interesting oak. Even though it involved trespassing, she stopped, and I got the shot! I still have that photo – and I still do my best to take photos of every tree I measure.
More recently, in 2008 my job as a civil engineer took me to Catonsville High School, where I discovered a tree noticeably larger than all those around it. After a little research, I was in touch with John Bennett, who explained that the tree is a very stately bald cypress, the Baltimore County champion of the species! (BT-0218).
It’s hard to decide on my favorite big tree, from the trees I’ve nominated and were subsequently listed, to the trees I’ve helped measure. While I enjoy trees both for sheer size (for example BT-3695, a 392 point silver maple in Susquehanna State Park), or notable examples of a smaller species (BT-3694, a 119 point common pear, also in Susquehanna SP), I think my favorite is a very photogenic Sugar Maple in Fallston (BT-3618), recently added to the big tree list. My picture of the sugar maple is currently my favorite of my Big Tree pics.
Other notable contributors
Fred Besley was Maryland’s first forester, serving from 1906 to 1942.
He developed the formula used today to measure trees:
Circumference in inches +
Height in feet +
¼ of the average crown spread =