Meet Gus, the large larch tree
May 18, 2023
One of Seeley Lake's oldest residents is one of quite high distinction. While their place in the community may not be known to all, it literally dwarf all others.
Gus is not only the tallest tree in the state of Montana, but he is also the tallest western larch tree in the world. Standing at 163 feet, two feet taller than the Statue of Liberty, Gus is a subtle local legend.
He isn't prominently advertised, and for all intents and purposes he is just another in the many trees of the Jim Gerard Grove. But for those who venture into the forest near Camp Paxson and find Gus, the memory can be quite striking.
"We just stared at him for so long," said Jaurdyn Johnson, a newscaster for ABC/WKBW in Buffalo, NY. "He's so big. So massive."
Johnson grew up in Helena and spent summers camping with family in Seeley Lake. They would set up their weekend vacations on Boy Scout Road not far from the grove of trees where Gus lives.
"My first memory of Seeley is driving into the campground, getting out of the car and just smelling the pine," said Johnson. "That is my favorite smell in the world. Like, as soon as you get there, past the lumberyard. You just smell the wood chips and then you know it's going to be a good weekend."
Being in a 600-year-old grove keeps Gus from experiencing much personal change, but his stoic visage was updated by a special Boy Scout project in 2017.
Evan Yonce of Missoula's Boy Scout Troop 1911 built a wooden platform around Gus' seven feet, three inch diameter (more than 22 feet around) as his Eagle Scout project.
The platform is the only structure in the memorial grove and it allows the many people who visit Gus to stand close enough to hug his rough bark, which reportedly has been the tradition for quite some time.
In the near future, the whole grove will receive a makeover in the form of a prescribed burn.
"That one's coming up on a maintenance burn," said Quinn Carver, Seeley Lake District Ranger. "It needs it really bad. It's starting to get a lot of the young trees that we don't want in there."
Between the platform and the land maintenance Gus-ying up the tallest tree in the state, it's safe to say that it'll be around for a while to continue impressing the visitors of the Seeley Lake area who are lucky enough to find it.