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Feature Article on Gross Woods. TOPIC: AGRICULTURE
Written by Jim Sayre in January, 1999


Shelby County Burr Oak is Biggest East of Mississippi

The vast forest of early Shelby County is almost entirely gone, replaced by cultivated fields and second-growth woodlots. But, remnants of the old growth remain, showing us what Shelby County settlers faced as they cut their way into the local wilderness. The Gross Woods, located several miles east of Botkins, gives modern Shelby Countians a feel for the ancient forest once blanketing our area, including the feel of swarming, biting mosquitoes, the bane of early settlers.

A sign at the entrance to the woods notes that it "stands today as one of the last vestiges of Ohio before the white man’s arrival. Although farming during a time when Shelby County was being rapidly changed from forest to field, Samuel Gross refused to clear this 40-acre plot." The higher ground of Gross woods is dominated by red oak and beech with sugar maple in the understory. Burr oak and basswood appear in the lower and wetter areas.

Another woods southwest of Botkins boasts a burr oak growing long before Shelby County was settled. At more than 17 feet in circumference at stump height, it is reputed to be the largest such tree east of the Mississippi. This Shelby County pioneer stands on the Alfred Prenger farm in McLean Township and may be close to 300 years old, a mature tree even before the French and Indian Wars raged through this area. "The tree has incredible quality," notes Jim Bartlett, forester with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

"Although a minor lightning strike has caused some die-back and made it stag-headed, the tree has huge dimensions and the trunk is very straight with no lean. The trunk goes up to 38 feet before the first limb. So there’s probably close to 6,000 board feet of lumber there," according to Bartlett. He estimates the tree to be close to 95 feet tall.

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Society members Roger Lentz, John Richards and Katie Lentz recently inspected the Prenger burr oak in McLean Township.

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