Fangorn Forest in Middle Earth is home to towering Treebeard and fellow Ents, lumbering shepherds of the trees famous for protecting forests from dwarves, orcs and other threats.
The reticent, ancient, gnarled, walking, talking tree giants of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy won’t be found in Walla Walla — that we know of. But this area does have big, mature trees around which mortals can walk.
And what a great outdoors option to be in the fresh air while social distancing continues during the coronavirus pandemic.
For a number of years Walla Wallans have had a resource to explore the trees with “A Walking Guide to the Big Trees of Walla Walla,” authored by the late Walla Wallan Shirley Muse.
The guide got a reboot in 2006 and is now into its third edition, updated and expanded to 16 pages by Walla Wallans Gayle F. Bodorff and Thomas Mair, who have invested hundreds of hours in the project, Thomas said.
They took on the guide update for the city to celebrate the area’s urban trees, Gayle said.
Gayle and Thomas discuss some of the recognized and unrecognized trees in Walla Walla and included Shirley’s remarks in the guide and in an introductory video they put together at youtu.be/-2zJPAhmkBA.
There’s a giant sequoia on the Walla Walla County Courthouse grounds between Main and Alder streets that could be the second largest of its kind in the state. Yet, as Gayle and Thomas ran out of space in their pocket guide, it was left out.
And rankings of the trees aren’t included in the new edition as that data hasn’t been collected since 1996.
However, there are four great walking tours in the guide with maps by Karen Heinzmann, the original cover art by Vicki Shafer and locations of trees highlighted on accompanying maps in Pioneer Park, the Whitman College campus, a 1.3-mile South Loop along Palouse, Catherine, Newell, Thorne and Whitman streets and South First Avenue and a 1.1-mile North Loop on and in neighborhoods around the Whitman campus.
The mind-blowing heights of some of the local trees include a 109-foot-tall dawn redwood at Whitman and a 123-foot black walnut, 119-foot American sycamore and 109-foot London plane tree in Pioneer Park. The London plane trees surrounding the park’s gazebo were just saplings in 1909 when planted by the Walla Walla Women’s Park Club and now all top 100 feet, according to the guide.
Additional areas the guide lists in which to enjoy the trees: the London plane in Jeannette C. Hayner Park, 691 Reser Road; the American elm at Prospect Point Elementary School, 131 Reser Road; the Huntington elm at 608 W. Birch St. in the Ice-Burg Drive-In parking lot; the tulip polar at 110 N. Division and Pearson streets; the Arthur G. Rempel Nature Trail at the entrance to Fort Walla Walla Museum off Myra Road and the 80-acre Mountain View Cemetery grounds, 2120 S. Second Ave.
Just like the friendship Ents formed with wizard Gandalf and hobbits Pippin and Merry, the giants would have found a friend in Shirley, who advocated for and documented champion trees in the state. Champs are determined by measuring a nominated tree’s trunk circumference, height and one-fourth of the average crown spread.
Shirley was an administrative assistant at Whitman College when in 1975 she stepped up to speak for the trees she thought needed a voice.
She published “A Walking Guide to the Big Trees of Walla Walla” and was also a founder of the Blue Mountain Audubon Society. Unfortunately, 29% of the trees Shirley listed in the first two editions of the guide have been lost or altered, thereby disqualifying them.
Robert Van Pelt identified 44 trees in Walla Walla to include in his “Champion Trees of Washington State,” published in 1996.
Shirley wrote in 1998, “The stately old trees, which today we take for granted and at times carelessly dispose of are here because of the foresight, hard work and financial sacrifice of early Walla Walla residents.”
Those large trees planted around the turn of the 20th century have helped Walla Walla become known as a city of trees, Shirley said.
Trees populating the Valley today were brought in from around North America, Europe and Asia over that last two centuries.
As a side note, in more recent decades Rotary Club of Walla Walla has undertaken many biannual urban tree plantings here.
“What happens to our city’s trees ... rests with the citizens. What better way to honor those who came before us than to care for our trees and parks which they established. And to plant more for those who follow us,” Shirley wrote.
Sponsors of the new guide include the Blue Mountain Land, Clara and Art Bald and Mary Garner Esary trusts, Rotary of Walla Walla, an anonymous donor, Blue Mountain Audubon Society and in association with Andy Coleman and the Walla Walla Parks & Recreation Department.
To request a free copy that can be picked up curbside call the Walla Walla Public Library, 238 E. Alder St., at 509-527-4550 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.