For a mathematician, Walt Lange does a pretty good Johnny Appleseed imitation.
So does his wife, Donna, a former corporate secretary.
The couple were named the 2010 Ohio Tree Farmers of the Year, but not just because they've worked with friends and relatives to plant thousands of trees on the 32-acre site where they live off Fulton County Road 3 in Swancreek Township.
The two were lauded by the Ohio Tree Farm Committee, a state panel which issues the award, for spreading the word about trees to innumerable groups of people over the years, especially Boy Scouts and 4-H groups. Local Boy Scout groups are so enamored with their property that they have made camping within the pine stand an annual event.
The committee that bestowed the honor on the Langes is supported by the Ohio Forestry Association and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' forestry division. "Donna and Walt are true ambassadors of forest conservation," said David Lytle, state forester and chief of the Ohio DNR's Division of Forestry. "Their dedication and hard work not only has benefited their land, but has inspired other landowners to realize the full potential of their wood-lands."
Thomas Collins, a state DNR service forester who nominated them for the award, noted how forested land is not nearly as commonplace in northwest Ohio as it is in other parts of the Buckeye State.
"The Langes have applied a variety of forest practices to their woodlands, and we like to show off the results to other tree farmers and landowners. They make forestry fun," Mr. Collins said.
Indeed, seconds after slipping into the tranquil woods on the Lange property, one likely would forget about northwest Ohio's vast surrounding farmland.
The lush canopy of the evergreens, now showing off a fresh coat of snow, offers a picturesque setting and protection from sunlight.
Occasional deer can be observed. Rabbits rule, with scouts having made hutches for them out of scrap tree limbs and branches.
The Langes also own a wooded 23-acre site about a mile south of where they live.
Mr. Lange, 71, a retired University of Toledo math professor who still teaches part time, said his mind wasn't wired for forestry, botany, biology, or any of the other sciences that are at the fore of a tree farm.
He and Ms. Lange, 69, who once worked for Owens-Illinois, were simply looking for a peaceful setting where he could do a little rabbit hunting when they decided to get out of Toledo in 1966. The hunting is something he's had an easier time giving up in recent years than math classes.
Mrs. Lange recalls how Reynolds Road was the Toledo metropolitan area's endpoint back then. Once west of Reynolds, people were out in the country.
A 17-acre tract of their land was being used as a crop farm back then.
With frontage along both County Road 3 and County Road F, the Langes could have easily divided their property and allowed some of it to be developed into residential housing or retail establishments.
But privacy was more important to the Langes than a quick buck.
Mrs. Lange said she became more determined to keep their property intact as development spread west along Airport Highway and beyond Swanton, the closest town to them.
The Langes continued to lease out the 17-acre tract to a local farmer for several more years, but put in a row of trees along County Road 3 as a windbreak in 1972. They figured they had to do something because the land was so barren that sandy soil "literally drifted on the road," according to Mr. Lange.
In 1988, several thousand more trees were planted - with the help of friends and relatives - along County Road F to the north and through the center of the property.
The farmer they'd been associated with left, saying it wasn't practical to continue farming land that had been bisected by trees.
So the Langes eventually filled in all of the remaining gaps with tree seedlings.
"It just seemed like the logical thing to do," Mr. Lange, who had no interest in farming the land himself, said. "That's what it was before it was farmed."
Now president of the Ohio Forestry Association, Mr. Lange looks forward to hosting school groups, service organizations, and others interested in learning about trees.
He served 15 years on the Ohio Tree Farm Committee.
He's a self-taught tree farmer, seeking out advice from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and others on forestry management.
The Langes plan to turn the property over to one of their two daughters someday. One of them, Denise Heban and her husband, Dennis, have a tree farm on 15 acres about a mile south of them.
The Langes do little timber harvesting, though they had to take down a number of ash trees infested by the emerald ash borer.
They received authorization to mill that wood into lumber.
The couple still reminisces about the Northwest Ohio Woodland and Wildlife Workshop they hosted on April 3, 2004, an event that drew 230 people and was supported by water and soil conservation districts from several area counties. It moves to a new locale throughout the region each year.
Now, they're looking ahead to hosting a field day on Sept. 25 in recognition of being named the 2010 Ohio Tree Farmers of the Year.
Free and open to the public, the event will provide tips about forest management, and have entertainment for people of all ages, the Langes said.
Their award is part of the Ohio Tree Farm Program.
Organized in 1946, that program brings foresters, consultants, and government agency officials together with seasoned tree farmers to apply best-management forestry practices.
For information about the American Tree Farm System, a program the Langes use for filing yearly management plans, see www.ohiotreefarm.org.
The state Outstanding Tree Farmer honor is awarded annually by the Ohio Tree Farm Committee, which plans and administers the Ohio Tree Farm Program.
The Ohio Forestry Association and the ODNR Division of Forestry are sponsors of the committee.
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