By Brian Kelley, Champion Tree Archivist 

On July 1, 2018, I left my home in New York City and headed west toward Los Angeles with nothing but a camera and a dream: to find and photograph America’s largest and most beautiful trees. I am unsure of the journey on the road ahead, but I am writing to share it with all of you. 

For those who don’t know who I am, my name is Brian Kelley. I’m a Brooklyn based photographer with a deep passion for trees, especially big ones. This year I am partnering with American Forests to travel around the country and photograph every champion tree. Not only will I be photographing the trees, I will be trying to photograph the leaves, seeds and bark of every champion to aid in species identification.  

To get this project started, a friend and I spent the last four months building out a transit van. Being on the road as much as I plan to be, I need to have a space where I can store all my camera gear. On nights when I am unable to find a campground, my van will be my bedroom, so I attempted to make it comfortable and safe.

Van in sunset
Credit: Brian Kelley

My first stop was the National Champion balsam fir just outside of Gettysburg, Penn. With a total of 277 points on the American Forests Champion Trees National Register, this balsam fir is massive for its species. The giant loomed on the side of the owner’s house as I approached it, dwarfing everything around it. 

Balsam Fir next to house
Credit: Brian Kelley
Balsam Fir canopy
Credit: Brian Kelley

Exploring the surrounding area of Gettysburg, I came across some other impressively large trees, including poplar, hickory and oak, which are worth checking out if you’re ever in the area. 

Next stop: Ohio.   

Can’t wait to give you more updates on my journey soon!

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