Cass County tree hunter wins award in ReLeaf Michigan’s Big Tree Hunt

Published 1:05 pm Sunday, December 4, 2022

ANN ARBOR — Chris Jankoviak of Niles won the prize for the largest tree entered from Cass County in ReLeaf Michigan’s Big Tree Hunt. 

The tree they found is an Eastern cottonwood located in Niles and is 232-inches in circumference. Award recipients celebrated the conclusion of its 15th biennial Michigan Big Tree Hunt contest on Saturday, October 15th, with an awards ceremony at the Chippewa Nature Center in Midland. The contest, which awards participants for identifying the biggest trees in Michigan, began in the spring of 2020 and ended at the end of the summer of 2022.

More than 650 entries were sent in from people across the state, including 79 of Michigan’s 83 counties. The winning entry for each county was verified on-site by professional arborists and foresters from throughout the state. The largest trees in the state were found in all sorts of places, including backyards, local parks, cemeteries, and hiking trails. Due to many trees being on private property, the specific location of every winning tree is kept confidential.

Certificates and prizes were awarded for several categories: the largest tree submitted from each county, the overall largest tree in different age groups, the largest Eastern White Pine (Michigan’s state tree), and any new potential state champion trees.

The grand prize for the largest tree in the contest submitted by a Big Tree Hunter under 15 years old went to Aidan Presnell.  With help from his sister, Aidan found an Eastern cottonwood located in Washtenaw County, measuring 308 inches around (more than 25 feet!). The grand prize for the largest tree submitted from a Big Tree Hunter 16 or older was awarded to both Mike Antoszewski and Paul Funk. Each of them entered an Eastern cottonwood in Monroe County measuring 301 inches around. The grand prize for the largest Eastern White Pine was another two-way tie, with two submissions both measuring approximately 181 inches! One was submitted by Tom Hollis and his granddaughter Payton Rue, located in Clinton County. The other was submitted by Nicholas Hansen, located in Marquette County.

Eighteen trees submitted for the contest qualified as new potential state champion trees and were submitted for further review and confirmation to the State Coordinator of the Michigan Big Tree Program, Ted Reuschel. (Note: Trees already listed in the Michigan Big Tree Register before the start of the contest were not eligible for prizes.) A complete list of winners is available on  

The contest also helps discover eligible trees for the National Register of Big Trees, updated every spring and fall by American Forests. As recently as 2012, Michigan had 23 registered champion trees, but today only five are registered. The Big Tree Hunt is an excellent opportunity to add to this list and get Michigan trees noticed nationwide.

The 2020-2022 Michigan Big Tree Hunt was made possible thanks to the support of its sponsors. The premier sponsor of the Big Tree Hunt was Nissan North America, who provided critical funding that allowed the ReLeaf Michigan team to devote resources to executing the Big Tree Hunt. Other sponsors included Consumers Energy, the Michigan DNR, ISA Michigan, the Michigan Botanical Club, the Michigan Botanical Foundation, and the Michigan State University Department of Forestry.

Since 1993, ReLeaf Michigan, a state-wide nonprofit tree organization, has challenged the public to find Michigan’s largest living trees through its Big Tree Hunt contest.  The contest encourages the public to observe Michigan trees while enjoying the outdoors.