In front of the pond at the University of St. Mary in Leavenworth stands a majestic, almost flame-red maple tree. It’s beautiful this fall.
Matt Nowak, Fort Leavenworth’s natural resources specialist in the Directorate of Public Works, called it a “specimen” tree because of its spectacular nature.
There aren’t, however, many trees like that on post.
“We don’t necessarily have a lot of specimen trees that people would want to take a photo of,” he said. “But we do have vistas.”
And those vistas are equally as beautiful this fall, he said.
“For instance, if you’re driving along Sherman Avenue near the clock tower, and you see the beautiful sweep of the river, along the other side of the river are the bluffs of the Missouri and down in the valley are flood-plains trees,” Nowak said.
There are a variety of those trees — it’s a forest, after all — but among them are plenty of cottonwood and northern pecan trees.
“For all intents and purposes it is, as far as we know, the northwestern-most grove of natural pecan trees in the United States,” Nowak said.
One question that naturalists like to ponder is, how did they get here?
“They just didn’t come from nowhere,” Nowak said. “We think the Indians or the French, probably the Indians, brought up the pecan trees. They probably thought this would be a perfect place to plant pecan nuts to see if they would grow.”
Or perhaps French explorers brought them in the 1700s, he said.
“We don’t know for sure,” he said. “We do know that Lewis and Clark saw them in 1804 and 1806 on the way up the river and the way back down the river. They remarked about them in their journal.”
The post has many interesting trees. For instance, it is home to 11 large “Champion Trees of Kansas” as documented by the Kansas Forest Service at Kansas State University. Champion trees are nominated, usually by the county agricultural agent, and are so designated based on criteria such as circumference, height and crown spread.
Such trees on post include a black oak near Eisenhower Elementary, a Norway spruce at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks Cemetery and a common Pawpaw at the Missouri River bottomland.
Several trees on post have given as gifts, Nowak said, including those along the north shore of Smith Lake that were given to commemorate Medal of Honor recipients. Many groups, such as Girl Scouts and 4-H clubs, have donated trees in years past. The Girl Scouts helped dedicate the grove of trees at the left-side opening into the parking lot at the Frontier Conference Center to commemorate the 100th birthday of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Page 2 of 2 - Still other groves commemorate events significant to the Army or nation. For example, Constitution Grove near the Lewis and Clark Center features soil from the country’s original 13 colonies.
Fallen trees, including those felled by construction, are used for mulch and milling and are sold to sawmills, Nowak said. For example, logs recently felled for construction at Normandy Village were sold, with 60 percent of the money targeted for the Army Forestry Account for installation forestry programs, which Fort Leavenworth can access. The other 40 percent goes to Leavenworth County for schools and roads.
Individual trees on post come with interesting history as well, Nowak said. For instance, a ginko tree north of the Resiliency Center at 600 Thomas Ave. is thought to perhaps be an offshoot from a state Grand Champion ginko tree that resides on Broadway Street in Leavenworth. That tree was a gift from China when the city of Leavenworth was established in 1854.
But Nowak said there was no way to prove the offshoot theory.
The oldest trees on Fort Leavenworth could be at least 180 years old, he said, adding that the post offers an array of natural treasures.
“There are so many interesting places, if you just look around,” Nowak said.