Allegheny Outdoor Adventures Bradford, PA

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The Giants of Marilla

The Giants of Marilla

With the opening of the new "Marilla Spring Trail" in Bradford, there is a new "discovery" of sorts. Undoubtedly, for years, some locals knew they were there. But, with many people hiking the new Marilla Spring Trail, many new people are discovering these Old Growth ancient trees "popping up" all over the place!

How did they get there? How old are they? Why weren't they cut? All good questions.

First of all, it seems because of the terrain, being rocky and very wet and soft, nobody wanted to, OR COULDN'T, cut these giants.

I am not by any stretch, a "tree expert", but I have been shown how to identify "old trees", by tree experts. I have been to many old growth forests in the eastern US, and these trees really measure up!

My best guess is that some are 300 to 350 years old and maybe older! This is quite a find for Bradford considering the fact that nearly every hill around was stripped bare, down to the dirt, around the turn of the century (the last one!). These trees were fortunate enough to have grown in the very secluded (and scenic) "hollow" if you will, tucked away where nobody noticed. Or like I said before, the ground was just too rocky and soft to be able to skid these giants out of where they grow. Even today with modern equipment, it would be quite a task.

The "Giants of Marilla" start near the road at the western end of the Marilla Reservoir off West Washington Street, or (Rt. 346 to you non-locals). If you hike the Marilla Reservoir Trail, you will see them from the "Horns Passage" bridge, where it crosses "Little Marilla Creek". You can stand on the bridge and look upstream and view quite a few of these majestic giants. If you are sharp, it's here you will spot the queen of all the giants in this stand, "Miss Marilla" as named by one of the early caretakers of this property. "She" measures 10'4" around her base!

After viewing this stand of Old Growth giants, you can hike the Reservoir in a southerly direction and cross a second wooden bridge. At the gazebo, you can turn right onto the new Marilla Spring Trail.

Right away you will notice you are among some really old trees! For the next few miles you will be in a mixed woods with plenty of old growth giants. There are reportedly small stands of Virgin White Pine, among the old Hemlocks, Maples, Oaks and Cherry.

It's actually remarkable to find a mix of these different trees all in one fairly small area.

You may notice that many are "stunted" near the tops where at one point the tops of the trees were "blown off" or broken, but the tree still grew.

On some, the bark is real coarse, while others show signs of "balding". You will also notice on some, how high off the ground the first branches are, all signs of ancient trees.

The trail goes south as you hike the Marilla Creek upstream toward it's origin. The creek, always alongside you, is a beautiful brook full of small cascades and waterfalls along the way. This makes for a very beautiful setting for these magnificent giants of the forest.

Who'd a thought Bradford would have an "old growth forest" in it's midst? Not I, for one.

I'm hoping to get a "tree expert" friend of mine, Bruce Kershner (famous book author) interested in checking these out and maybe identifying and aging the biggest of the bunch.

I've talked to a few locals who "always knew they were there", but now with the opening of the new Marilla Spring Trail, everybody can enjoy hiking among these truly remarkable trees I call "The Giants of Marilla".

John Stoneman 3/9/06

Also see my page about the Marilla Springs Trail at: MARILLA SPRINGS TRAIL

Update September 2009:

The Tree House Tree

the largest Eastern White Pine in Pennsylvania!"The Treehouse Tree! Pennsylvania's Champion Eastern White Pine Tree.

The locals just call it "The Treehouse Tree". What is it? The biggest pine tree in the state of Pennsylvania, a giant Eastern White Pine Tree, the state champion Eastern White Pine. Let me tell you a bit about how I first came across this Champion tree.

Years ago, when the Marilla Trails System was being built here in Bradford, on Bradford Water Authority property, the head of the water authority (Kim Benjamin) told me that their forester reported a stand of old growth or "virgin white pine" trees just off the main "Marilla Springs Trail" they were laying out. Kim thought I might be interested in checking them out. And he was right! I am very grateful for his tip.

After months of exploring the area, the proposed "Marilla Springs Trail" as well as the "Marilla Bridges Trail", I documented two giant Eastern White Pine trees, "Miss Marilla" and "King of the Marilla Giants", along with a stand of 13 other giant white pines.
Not being a "tree person" per se, I did recognize that the trees there were a significant find. There are not that many trees that big and that old left standing today, unfortunately.

Trail to old growth "Virgin White Pine trees"
Trail to old growth "Virgin White Pine trees"

It was quite a find! Eventually we laid out a side trail to the stand of 13 White pines, now called "The White Pine Trail", that is a spur off the main Marilla Springs Trail. The two named giants, as well as a few of the biggest in the stand of white pines may very well be champion trees. We have not as of yet, measured them! Except for their circumference. Miss Marilla measures 13' 4" around, while the King of the Marilla Giants, measures 13' 8" around. They both look to be about 125 feet tall.

"Miss Marilla", a giant Eastern White Pine
"Miss Marilla", a giant Eastern White Pine

The "King of the Marilla Giants"! It takes four tree huggers to hug this giant
White Pine!
The "King of the Marilla Giants"! It takes four tree huggers to hug this giant White Pine!

I was so excited about this find, I called my friend a world renowned "tree expert", Bruce Kershner who came down from Buffalo to see them, and he agreed we had quite a find here. Besides this group of giant, old growth Eastern White Pine trees, Bruce identified several old trees including an old Birch tree that he thinks might be about 450 years old! Being a Birch, it's not real big, but he believed it to be the oldest tree in the area. He thought some of the White Pine trees to be up to 350 years old.

My outdoor adventure club ( ), did several hikes to the area, to visit these trees. On one particular hike, a woman named Lori Vickery said "they ARE big, but I know where there is a bigger one". I was intrigued, doubtful, but interested in seeing her big tree. Especially since I've been all over this area, and often hike Zoar Valley where there are old growth trees, and none of them are noticeably bigger than these trees here. But she insisted that she knew of another big tree right here in Bradford, that was bigger than the trees I just showed her. AND she said the tree was near-by! And offered to show it to me.

Of course I was a bit skeptical about her claims, but off we went to see this "real big tree" that Lori called "the tree house tree".

The champion "Tree House Tree", the largest Eastern White Pine in Pennsylvania!
The champion "Tree House Tree", the largest Eastern White Pine in Pennsylvania!

Lori explained that as a girl, she played in this tree, and that it once had a three story tree house in it, three stories! This tree is located just off Langmaid Lane in Bradford, behind the nursing home. It's just a short walk into the woods.

When I first laid eyes on this tree I just couldn't believe it! What a giant tree! It's hard to imagine how big this tree really is! Besides being big in diameter, it's also tall, and has an amazing spread to it's crown. Near the bottom and close to the ground are these giant branches coming off and turning to the sky. You can actually climb right up into this massive tree.

There is no longer a three story tree house in this tree, but it is there in pieces on the ground around it. And you can see some nails or some boards still in the tree where the tree house once was. Lori told us that as a young girl (back in the 1960's) she played in this tree. And in the three story tree house that was in it. She told me that she only got as high as the second floor of the tree house, and never made it to the third story.

Measuring the circumference, an amazing seventeen feet and six inches!
Measuring the circumference, an amazing seventeen feet and six inches!

Well, I went back to this tree to measure it's circumference, and was amazed that it's actually 17' 6" around 4 1/2' off the ground! Surely this must be a champion tree I thought. So I got on the internet an started looking up champion trees in Pennsylvania.

"Champion Trees of Pennsylvania" ( has the list of all the big trees in the state, broken down by species. This Eastern White Pine was bigger in diameter than any other pine tree in the state! So I reported this tree to the website and asked if they would be interested in coming up here and measuring the tree. I was contacted by a guy named Scott Wades and he put me in contact with Stan Hess, the DCNR/Bureau of Forestry County forester for McKean County.Stan Hess was very interested, and we made plans to meet and measure the tree together.

As it turned out, it was very difficult to measure. One, it was surrounded closely by other big trees. It was nearly impossible to sight the very top of the tree. And two,, the tree was on a fairly sharp slope. We measured the tree from three different directions to calculate the height of the tree. Measuring the "drip line", the furthest out branches for the size of the crown (from several different views) was also quite the task. The easy part was the circumference! As soon as we got the measurements we realized that we had a state champion on our hands.

"Champion Trees" are rated by a number that is calculated by the height in feet, the circumference in inches and the average of the width of the crown in feet. For more information go here:

Our "Treehouse Tree" has a circumference of 308.6 inches, the height is 112 feet and the average crown spread is 69.5 feet, giving this tree a champion rating of 338. The previous state champion was a tree in Cook Forest that rates at 335. The tree in Cook Forest, has held the record for many years. And not only is the Tree House Tree, the largest Eastern White Pine tree in the state of Pennsylvania, it's also the largest pine tree of any species in the state of Pa.!

Stan Hess, the DCNR/Bureau of Forestry County forester for McKean County measuring our
champion tree
Stan Hess, the DCNR/Bureau of Forestry County forester for McKean County measuring our champion tree

While we were measuring the tree and when Stan Hess was figuring out the final champion number, he looked up at me and said "now this is a serious matter, those who have champion trees take this stuff very seriously, everybody you bump down in rating with this tree will be very mad" .... he then told me that they might rush up here to re-measure this tree to confirm our measurements!

And Stan was right! Just a day after our tree was listed on the "Champion Trees of Pennsylvania" website, I got an e-mail from Dale Luthringer, the environmental education specialist at Cook Forest State Park, and an "old friend of Dr. Bruce Kershner". Yes, the same Cook forest that had the previous "state champion tree" for all those years! Dale in fact wants to come up and measure this tree with more accurate instruments, for a more accurate measurement, and to verify that we do in-fact have the state champion Eastern White Pine tree.

Here is a great twist to the story. Lori Vickery, the girl who showed me this tree, has an old letter her dad saved. Apparently her dad, back in 1980, reported the tree to the state. Stan Hess who measured trees way back then, came to Bradford and measured this tree in 1980! At the time, some thirty years ago or so, he measured the height as 95 feet and the circumference of 14'. Somewhat smaller than this tree is today, as expected. But when I told Stan of this letter Lori has, that he signed, he said he has no memory of ever measuring this tree before. That can be expected since he has probably measured thousands of trees since 1980!

Before seeing the "Treehouse Tree" in Bradford, I had already thought we had a significant find out in the Marilla Reservoir area with the Miss Marilla, the King of the Marilla Giants, and the stand of 13 old growth White Pine trees out there. I expect when we actually measure them, that we might add more to the "record books" from this area, but in the mean time, as of today, we do have the biggest pine tree in the whole state of Pennsylvania right here in Bradford Pa.! A great tourist attraction for sure. This tree has to be seen to be believed! But if you come to Bradford to see this giant, be sure to visit the other big Eastern White Pine trees in the Marilla area also. One is off the Marilla Bridges Trail, and the others are off the Marilla Springs Trail, and all our giant trees are within a relatively few miles of each other! Definitely worth the trip for the "tree people" among us! Or anybody who might want to see (and photograph) some really big, old trees!


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