‘Grand Trees’ calendar for 2023 arrives

It spotlights Chatham’s outstanding trees, serves as fundraiser for organization


Chatham’s “Grand Trees” calendar for 2023 has arrived.

Grand Trees of Chatham (GTOC) was initiated in 2009 by a small group of Chatham County citizens with an interest in raising awareness of the county’s outstanding trees and of the many contributions trees make. County commissioners created an all-volunteer board to administer the program, and today GTOC is an independent non-profit with close ties to the N.C. Cooperative Extension – Chatham center.

This week, we speak with Sharon Garbutt, one of GTOC’s original board members. The group’s board today consists of knowledgeable naturalists and active environmental educators — including calendar photographer Gary Simpson, a skilled photographer who devotes hours to photographing trees and taking the lead on the calendar. Garbutt’s husband, JC, is the chairperson of GTOC’s board.

Chatham County has six N.C. State Champion Trees, three of which were identified by GTOC. A champion blackjack oak, located in Siler City, is the National Champion blackjack oak.

Remind us about Grand Trees of Chatham’s mission and work…

The mission of the Grand Trees of Chatham is to increase public understanding and appreciation of Chatham County’s valuable and irreplaceable trees.

This mission is accomplished through two components: First is an educational component. GTOC offers information about trees and tree care at community events such as the Pittsboro Street Fair and also promotes education by leading guided hikes that are free to the public. The second component is an Awards Program. Outstanding Chatham trees are nominated by the tree’s owner and then assessed by the GTOC Board, often with the help of other experts. If the tree is found to meet the guidelines for any of 4 recognition categories, then the tree is awarded by GTOC.

The four categories of recognition are: 1) Champion: (a tree that earns at least 75% of the points earned by the N.C. State Champion Tree of the same species; 2) Meritorious: a tree that is an exemplary example of its species or is just short of the points needed to be a Champion Tree; 3) Historic: a tree associated with a historic event; 4) Landmark: this award is given to tree groupings that are unusual or of special significance to a community.

How did your calendar project get started?

GTOC was started with a two-year grant from the N.C. Forest Service Urban & Community Forestry Grant Program. Since GTOC is an all-volunteer organization, our costs are very low, so at the end of our grant funding GTOC continued for two years financed only by donations and funds earned by selling GTOC t-shirts and books about trees and tree care at outreach booths.

In 2014 we asked local photographer Gary Simpson to take photos of some of our awarded trees. He agreed and soon suggested that GTOC create a calendar featuring some of the spectacular trees our group had documented, along with photos of the natural beauty found everywhere in Chatham County. With Gary’s leadership, the first “Naturally Chatham” calendar was printed for 2016. Gary became a member of our board and has continued to photograph the trees we assess and to lead our calendar project.

What was Gary chosen to be the photographer for the project, and how are the photos for the calendar chosen?

Gary has a large collection of photos of natural scenes from all across Chatham County. Photos for the calendar are selected by Gary with input from other Board members.

What’s the goal of the calendar project?

The goal of the calendar project is two-fold: 1) to highlight and increase citizen appreciation of the natural beauty found everywhere in Chatham County; 2) to raise funds for GTOC.

How are the funds used?

Since we are an all-volunteer organization, all of our funds are used for equipment necessary to carry out the mission of GTOC.

Although our calendar sales remained high, our activities decreased during the past two years due to COVID. As we emerged from the pandemic, we realized that we now have enough funds from our calendar sales to possibly help with tree plantings in areas that will benefit the public. With this in mind, at our request, Pittsboro Mayor Cindy Perry attended our recent August board meeting and she suggested we meet with Pittsboro’s Parks Director, Katy Keller. We met with Katy in September to set up a plan to visit town parks with her to assess how we might help with tree planting and participate in outreach programs she plans to develop for citizens.

Even even with the great support GTOC receives from our community, our total earnings from calendar sales and donations is only about $1,500/year. We now have about $5,500 in our treasury — that’s a record amount for us!

Where can we find 2023 calendars, and how much do they cost?

The calendars can be obtained for a $20 donation at the following Pittsboro retailers who, without compensation, make room for the display and distribution of our calendars in their store: Chatham Marketplace, Fair Game Beverage Company, Liquidambar Gallery and Gifts, New Horizons West. This year the calendar will also be available at The Chatham Rabbit in Siler City.