Tree Farmer of the Year, Vermont couple put down Iowa roots

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Paul and Cathy Marcotte, Elkader, pictured against the backdrop of their tree farm, are the most recent recipients of the Iowa Tree Farmer of the Year honor.

By Pam Reinig

Register Editor


As dreams go, Paul and Cathy Marcotte had a rather modest one: The couple hoped only to be nominated for Iowa Tree Farmer of the Year.

“Everyone likes to be recognized for their work,” Paul said, “so, yeah, we thought it would be nice. But that’s not why we did this (work) so if we hadn’t been nominated, we would’ve been OK with that, too.”

Not only were the Marcottes recommended for the award, they also received the top honor. 

The Iowa Tree Farmer award is given annually to those who promote “sustainable woodland management.” The program began in 1955 and developed slowly for the next 30 years. Since the mid-1980s, it’s expanded rapidly with about 50 new properties added each year. Iowa now has over 1,000 active Tree Farms averaging over 80 acres in size.

The Marcottes live on a 160-acre farm a few miles south of Elkader, adjacent to the Osborne Conservation Center. They purchased the farm in 2003 and almost immediately began planting trees. Along the way, they also tore down an old barn and built a home with a bank of windows that gives them a great view of their woodlands.

“As soon as we saw the property, we knew we wanted to create a tree farm,” Cathy said. “We’ve planted nearly all of the pasture area though we did keep a few acres for food plots for deer.”

The open spaces are also dotted with deer stands and other small shelters that are used for hunting as well as nature photography, which has become Cathy’s passion since moving onto the farm.

The first step in developing the tree farm was creating a master plan, which the couple did by walking the farm to determine which areas to reforest and which to leave as food plots. They got a soil map of their property so they could match trees with soil, and they met with the state forester. Two methods of planting were used—direct seeding, which is done by spreading seeds over an entire field, and seedlings.

According to the Natural Resource Conservation Service, direct seeding is gaining in popularity because “it’s less costly, allows for more normal root development, avoids seedling transplant shock and may increase the quality of trees that are eventually developed.” In addition, direct seeding can be done during much of the year; many seedlings must be established at specific times.

The Marcottes were determined to make their tree farm as natural as possible. That’s why they planted lots of oak, walnut and cherry trees. They placed as many as 800 sandbar willows on their property line along the Volga River. They’ve also developed an impressive stand of pines, which pay tribute to Paul’s father who planted 12 acres of pines after his retirement. The stately trees also remind them of their New England heritage. Paul was born in Vermont, which is also where he met and married Cathy. 

It’s hard to describe the breathtaking beauty of the Marcotte tree farm, even after an extensive ATV tour, which the couple is only too happy to provide. The space has a grandeur and sense of tranquility that only comes from being enveloped in the natural beauty of a well-maintained timber. After hectic, fast-paced careers, it’s an environment that the Marcottes deeply appreciate. Cathy worked in public health services and Paul most recently owned a network solutions company in Cedar Rapids. He also served in the military, learned about electronics while working security for the 1980 Winter Olympics in, went to tech school in Massachusetts and worked in the Twin Cities area.

“I retired at 45 and needed something to do,” he said. “This tree farm was that something. It’s pretty much planted now; the hard work is done. For the next 15 years, I’ll just sit back and watch it grow.”

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