Beloved 1,000-year-old tree partially collapses in Wash. storm

Beloved 1,000-year-old tree partially collapses in Wash. storm »Play Video
"Big Cedar," Olympic National Park, Washington. March 14, 2014. (KOMO Photo/Jon Martin)

OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK, Wash. - A well-known cedar tree said to be 1,000 years old, has partially collapsed, and its fate will soon be decided by an Olympic National Park botanist.

Those who know this tree - and there are many - call it simply "Big Cedar."

Washington's Olympic Peninsula forests thrive in the moist ocean air. There are bigger and taller trees than Big Cedar - maybe even prettier trees than this old misshapen one - but none are likely more fascinating.

When you walk from the end of the road off Highway 101 five miles north of Klaloch Lodge, the first thing you see is the portion that's fallen across the trail. That alone is big, especially when you look upward and see the rest of the giant tree that remains standing.

It is massive. And it looks unlike any other tree.

In fact, look closer: It's actually 3, 4, maybe 5 different trees or more - all twisted together.

No one can seem to agree on how tall this Western Red Cedar is - 175 feet perhaps - nor how big it is - 60 feet maybe. Is it hundreds of years old? Most people say it's 1,000 years old.

No camera can capture how immense it is. And it's twisting, gnarled root system doesn't seem to care whether it's above ground or underground.

It has a large hole mid-trunk that allows you to see all the way through it. 

There are photos of it all over the Internet. This tree has captured the imagination of hikers for years, like posing with a friend.       

One of the most curious things about the tree collapse is the smell. You know that great cedar aroma? It's everywhere.

And when you're in the vicinity of this tree, if you listen, you can hear a constant din.

It's the mighty Pacific Ocean, less than a mile away, across Highway 101 near Klaloch.

Legendary ocean storms brought down part of this legend of a tree on March 8, weakened by rot inside - a sure sign the behemoth is facing the end.

After producing so much oxygen, cooling so much air, gobbling up so much greenhouse gas, creating so much habitat, Olympic National Park officials must now decide whether to try to save it and leave a potential threat to hikers that might close the trail permanently, or to bring it down.

One certainty in nature: everything eventually dies and helps produce new life.

Olympic National Park officials have closed the short road leading to the tree, called Big Cedar Road because they can't guarantee hikers' safety. Once it re-opens, if it does, you can find the tree 5 miles north of Klaloch Lodge on Highway 101, just a 5-minute walk into the forest.