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AETN original documentary 'Champion Trees' to premiere March 3

Escaping the ravages of nature and man, the champion trees of Arkansas are the largest of their species in the state. With lives spanning hundreds of years, these silent sentinels have watched history unfold around them. "Champion Trees," an original 60-minute documentary from the Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN), explores these natural wonders and how they influence and inspire the people around them. The film will premiere on AETN Monday, March 3, at 7 p.m.

Arkansas's Champion Tree program, managed by the Arkansas Forestry Commission, recognizes those trees – planted by nature or individuals – that are the largest of each species in the state. Trees are compared using the American Forests "Bigness Index," which includes trunk circumference, height and average crown spread. A tree must be re-measured at least every 10 years to maintain its champion status. The Arkansas State Champion Tree list is updated annually, and the most current list will be released early this year.

"'Champion Trees' is really a love story told with exquisite cinematography and heartfelt personal experiences recounted by people who have protected these magnificent trees, in some cases, planted in their own backyards," AETN Executive Producer Carole Adornetto said. "It's about the reverence these centuries-old trees can evoke in all who see them.

"Once you see this documentary, you will never again see trees as 'just trees.'"

Viewers will experience these giants through various seasons in Arkansas, from the magnificent blooms of the champion Southern Magnolia tree in Texarkana during the summer to the snow-covered champion Northern Catalpa in Prattsville. They will also learn about the rich history associated with the trees, whether it be Dardanelle's 350-year-old White Oak dubbed the Council Tree by Native Americans or the 20-year-old Dawn Redwood planted when it was only 3 feet tall by Jerry Sanders of Sherwood.

Trees, whose champion status may have changed in the course of film production, and their locations highlighted in the documentary include:

  • Waldo – Post Oak
  • Dardanelle – Eastern Cottonwood, Persimmon, White Oak
  • Searcy – Deodar Cedar
  • Cotton Plant – Sweet Pecan
  • Birdeye – Southern Red Oak
  • Helena-West Helena – Maidenhair Ginkgo
  • Washington – Black Walnut, Southern Catalpa, Sweet Pecan
  • Prattsville – Northern Catalpa
  • Sherwood – Dawn Redwood
  • Bald Knob – Water Tupelo
  • Lexa – Cherrybark Oak
  • White River National Wildlife Refuge – Baldcypress, currently the largest tree in the state
  • Texarkana – Southern Magnolia
  • Rose Bud – American Holly
  • Hazen – White Ash

Also featured will be Linda Williams Palmer of Hot Springs who draws Arkansas's champion trees with the ultimate goal of interpreting each tree according to the season of observation, location, historic context and human connection. She developed this series over a period of 5 years, driving approximately 7,000 miles to document and artistically interpret selected Arkansas Champion Trees. An experienced Arkansas artist, Palmer opened her first art studio and gallery in Fort Smith in 1985. Awarded Signature Status in 2006 by the Colored Pencil Society of America, Palmer's work has been exhibited across the country and in Europe.

"Trees are the oldest, most massive living things on earth and our strongest allies," Palmer said. "I am delighted that AETN has produced this documentary celebrating the beauty and majesty of Arkansas's champion trees."

A companion website for the film, aetn.org/championtrees, will feature a map of champion trees in Arkansas, a photo gallery, video clips and additional information on Palmer's work.

Major funding for "Champion Trees" was provided by the Morris Foundation, Horace C. Cabe Foundation, Windgate Charitable Foundation and Richard W. Averill Foundation. Additional funding was provided by Munro Foundation, C. Louis & Mary C. Cabe Foundation, Olds Foundation, The Jane Howard Foundation, CarCo International and M/M Franklin Hawkins.

The Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN) is Arkansas's statewide public television network that enhances lives by providing lifelong learning opportunities for people from all walks of life. AETN delivers local, award-winning productions and classic, trusted PBS programs aimed at sharing Arkansas and the world with viewers. AETN depends on the generosity of Arkansans and the State of Arkansas to continue offering quality programming. For more information, visit aetn.org, or follow the AETN blog at aetn.org/engage. AETN is broadcast on KETS (Little Rock), KEMV (Mountain View), KETG (Arkadelphia), KAFT (Fayetteville), KTEJ (Jonesboro), and KETZ (El Dorado).

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