By Taylor Welsh and David Rogers. February 17, 2018. BLOWING ROCK, NC —A huge crane hovered over Memorial Park amid rain-soaked skies, as if Mother Nature mourned the deaths of her loved ones. One by one, a dozen, disease-ravaged red maples were cut down to three-foot stumps, the trunks and branches carted off for a higher purpose.
COVER IMAGE by Taylor Welsh, Blowing Rock News
Later, with winter in full effect and a common landscape of leafless trees all around, a dramatic change in Main Street’s landscape may have been less dramatic than if this had occurred in mid-summer, but for onlookers it was still a painful reminder that few things can remain the same forever — even Blowing Rock’s little slice of Rockwellian Americana in Memorial Park.
Over the last year, the Town of Blowing Rock, including an ultimate decision by the Board of Commissioners, has wrestled with its options in what to do about the beloved maple trees in Memorial Park that have been attacked by a fungus and were being eaten from the inside out. Ultimately, they had no choice but to remove the diseased trees and develop a plan for not only tree replacement, but a tree health management plan that will reduce, if not eliminate the odds that this sort of problem happens again.
Arborists from the State of North Carolina, as well as the town’s own landscape professionals warned that the diseased trees were increasingly a hazard to families, children and visitors of Blowing Rock’s Memorial Park. As Town Manager Ed Evans said during last November’s Blowing Rock Town Council meeting, “Some large branches on those trees could fall at a moment’s notice due to the disease that put them in a very poor condition.”
Because of this, the Town Council acted, inviting specialists from the North Carolina Forestry Service to evaluate every tree in Memorial Park. But painfully, their findings were not what the Board nor anyone else in Blowing Rock wanted to hear.
Twelve trees—five of which decorated the entrance to and street view of Memorial Park from Main Street—were found to have inonotus, a disease that attacks the roots and creates large deadwood branches dangling from the tree canopies.
In response to this undesirable news reported in November, this week town employees cut the diseased trees down to three-foot stumps, awaiting the final step of the removal process before replanting new—and different species—trees that are not susceptible to the tree-killing disease.
Although not a sight the citizens and frequent visitors of Blowing Rock wanted to have this season, Ed Evans, Town Manager, addressed the issue in a release.
“No one is saddened more than the Mayor and Town Council and staff, but the decision to remove the trees for safety outweighed any decision to leave the trees,” Evans said. “We value our residents and visitors too much to risk someone being injured or killed by falling branches or a falling tree.”
It is a can that had been kicked down the road by numerous Town Councils for nearly three decades. Blowing Rock News learned of one memo from over 25 years ago that asked the then sitting Board of Commissioners what was to be done about the diseased and dying trees in Memorial Park.
There came a time last year that neither Town Council nor Town staff could kick the crumpled can down the road any longer. During storms, big limbs had fallen from the overhead canopies, crashing to the ground and benches below. Knowledge of the problem and not having done anything about it would only increase the Town’s liability should the unthinkable happen.
Almost Blending In
Now, in the midst of winter, if one were to walk down Main Street they might not even notice the vacant-looking park with 12 three-foot stumps erect from the ground because of the lack of leaves on the remaining trees downtown.
The project is nearing the halfway mark. Next, Evans said the remaining stumps will be dug out Feb. 19, followed by a heavy focus on getting new trees planted in those spots by mid-March.
The process could take longer than expected due to some of the trees’ proximity to the adjacent sidewalk. Because these stumps cannot be dug out without damaging the concrete walkways, the town will perform a grinding technique remove the diseased trees in preparation of a fresh start for Memorial Park.
From Tragic Need, Springs Art
Disposition of the trees after removal was of course a concern for Town staff, but Evans reported to Blowing Rock News that local artisan Gaines Kiker will be receiving most of the trunks, as well as the stumps.
“A lot of people have been interested in the wood,” Evans reported, “but no one except Mr. Kiker wanted the stumps. Well, each stump represents, at minimum, $250 in tipping fees at the landfill, so by his taking the stumps he is saving the Town a lot of money. As a consequence, he is getting the trunks, too.”
Reached by Blowing Rock News on Friday afternoon, Kiker confirmed that he has already received the trunks and begun inspecting the wood.
“I have probably gotten all of the wormy maple that I’ll want for the rest of my life,” Kiker chuckled.
In describing some of the curiosities he has found, Kiker confirmed that so much of the trunks had been hollowed out by the disease.
“But there have been some strange things we’ve found, too,” he said, “and some of them I want to preserve. For example, there was one tree where the tree had grown around electrical materials. In another, we actually found steel inside the tree, probably where someone long ago had driven a big nail or a spike of some kind.”
Kiker described parts of the process in working with this kind of wood and said, “You have to have a lot of patience because we need to let the wood dry for about three years. The longer that you let the wood dry, the better it will stay flat if you are making a table, without folding up or warping.”
Asked what kinds of art might be coming in the future, the longtime Blowing Rock resident, goldsmith, and silversmith who is also well known for his artistic work with wood said, “Well of course there will be all kinds of tables, but there will also be several wood sculptures, too. I am anxious to see it all.”