MARION — When James Wegner hunts on his property in Marion, no matter where he is in the woods, he never fears getting lost.

There is a red oak on the property that Wegner uses as a point of reference and when his late father would go hunting with him, they often used the tree as a meeting place.

"It was a geographic location for us," Wegner said. "Even in the middle of the night, you couldn't get twisted around."

Using a tree as a point of reference might not seem strange to many hunters: using a landmark to navigate in the woods is commonplace — but this isn't just any tree. The trunk of the tree measures 384 inches in circumference, which according to the results of the ReLeaf Michigan Big Tree Hunt contest, makes it a contender to be the largest tree in the entire state.

Wegner said he bought the 112.7 acres on which the tree is located from his stepfather in the 1990s. He said his stepfather bought the land around 1970.

Massive not only in width but also height, Wegner said the tree seems to have formed when the trunks of two trees blended together, eventually splitting into two distinct limbs going in opposite directions.

Although he's not sure exactly how old the tree is, Wegner said his "gut feeling" is that it's 150-200 years old.

Wegner said the tree held a special place in his father's heart, along with a large white pine that used to be on the property.

In memory of his father and their hunting experiences on the property together, Wegner hired a local artisan to create a bevilled glass portrait of both trees on one of the doors inside his house.

Not only did the tree mean a lot to his father, Wegner and his wife, Kymberly, liked it so much they decided to get married in front of it.

While there's no doubt the tree is huge, Wegner said it was quite a surprise to find out it might be the largest in the state.

In the ReLeaf Michigan contest, people are invited to submit pictures and measurements of trees they believe may be among the largest in several categories, including largest tree in the county, largest tree of a particular species, and largest tree in Michigan.

Gail Cagle, with ReLeaf Michigan, said trees still have to be verified by the Michigan Botanical Club before they are officially deemed the largest in the state in any category — a process that could take some time. She said even after this determination is made, it's possible there are other trees out there that are bigger — they just don't know about them.

Wegner wasn't the only person from this area who submitted a tree in the contest: in Wexford and Missaukee counties, a couple submissions may end up being the largest trees for their species.

To read more about the other submissions and the contest in general, turn to the Northern Life section of the Cadillac News.

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