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Towering pine

--- Elkhorn is home to the largest tree of its kind in the state

Donna Lenz Wright/The Week

(Published Sept. 24, 2007, 2:23 p.m.)

When it was just a sapling there was one telephone for every 50 homes, the average annual income was $329 and the shores of Geneva, Delavan and Lauderdale lakes were surrounded mainly by farms.

As the young Austrian pine grew taller, it watched as the dirt road nearby grew busier and became a main street in Elkhorn. Houses replaced the surrounding prairie right up until the day 140 years ago when construction of a house began right next to it.

Thankfully the homebuilders liked the then-60-year-old tree and placed the home next to it rather than over it. The carriage drive to the carriage house stretched between the tree and the home with the carriage porch just feet away.

Flash forward 120 years to when Elizabeth Blashfield bought the house with the stately pine being one of the alluring features of the property.

"I don't own it; I just take care of it while I'm here," she said. "It was here first. I just make sure it's healthy. I feed and water it and call the (UW) extension if anything is wrong."

Recently Blashfield was awarded with a certificate because her Austrian pine has been deemed the largest in the state.

Champion tree records are kept on 271 tree species and cultivars in Wisconsin by the Forestry Division of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

At 200 years of age, its awarded-winning circumference is 165 inches, its height is 88 feet and its lofty crown spread is a whopping 70 feet.

Its size was impressive enough to be measured for champion status in 1973. At that time its circumference was 131 inches, height was 70 feet and crown spread was 60 feet, according to Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources records.

Seventy feet is quite impressive up close. Trying to see the entire span of its crown up close is not possible-you'll go over backward. The trunk is just huge, far too big to reach your hands around. And the limbs reach from Blashfield's house to her neighbor's.

Two huge nests have likely raised generations of offspring in its branches.

"I try to pretend they're eagles' nests, but they're crows," she joked.

Blashfield has formed a working partnership with her champion tree by using its pine cones that drop each fall for gifts and decorations.

And seven years ago when a large branch had to be removed to save the tree, she had the branch cut into planks, which she plans to make into furniture and "things" as soon as it dries completely.

"I didn't think it would take this long to dry, but it's getting there," Blashfield said, sheepishly pointing to the stack of planks on her back porch.

This champion tree isn't going anywhere any time soon and is there for all to appreciate on the north side of the house at 302 N. Wisconsin St., in Elkhorn.

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Other Walworth County champion trees

--- Cutleaf Norway maple, Lake Shore Drive, Lake Geneva
--- Baumann common horse chestnut, Yerkes Observatory, Williams Bay
--- Apple serviceberry, Lake Shore Drive, Lake Geneva
--- Pecan, Lake Shore Drive, Lake Geneva
--- Flowering dogwood, Spring Valley Estates, Lake Geneva
--- Female European beech, Yerkes Observatory, Williams Bay
--- Silver eastern red cedar, Yerkes Observatory, Williams Bay
--- Panicled golden raintree, Yerkes Observatory, Williams Bay
--- Weeping higan cherry, Spring Valley Estates, Lake Geneva
--- White willow, Snake Road, Lake Geneva
--- English elm, Bayiew Drive, Lake Geneva
--- Japanese zikova, Spring Valley Estates, Lake Geneva

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