Tree Huggers Unite, “Storm” Town Council Retreat

Tree Huggers Unite, “Storm” Town Council Retreat
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By David Rogers. June 26, 2017. BLOWING ROCK, NC — Rumors flying around town last week that the Board of Commissioners wanted to “clear cut” Memorial Park were actually a mis-characterization of reality. Nonetheless, they brought public scrutiny to a North Carolina Forestry Service study of problems in downtown’s central gathering place and its umbrella foliage, as well as increased awareness — and input — to any Town Council decision.

Blowing Rock News coverage of Blowing Rock town government is made possible by a sponsorship from Blowing Rock Medical Park and PLUS Urgent Care, divisions of UNC-Caldwell Health Care System.

COVER IMAGE: Blowing Rock resident Lynda Lasseter says she cherishes the old big trees in Memorial Park. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News.

Town Manager Ed Evans, center, points to symptoms of diseased and dying trees.

At the outset of Monday’s Mid Year Retreat meeting of the Board of Commissioners, Town Manager Ed Evans took the assemblage of Town Council members, media, and a near packed house of concerned citizens on a “field trip” into and around the park that borders Town Hall. He pointed out the many trees with problems, according to the March 2016 study, and outlined the primary liability issues should the problems remain unaddressed.

Dead sections that seemingly could separate themselves from the healthy portions of decades-old trees were a major concern.

“That big limb up there is really more of a second trunk,” Evans observed. “It is dead. It has to come out, be cut away. But the problem is that if you cut it out, then you are left with a very unbalanced tree.”

It is dead. It has to come out. But if you cut it out, then you are left with a very unbalanced tree.

Still less than six months on the job as the Town Manager, Evans noted special problems in the big trees providing a canopy of protection from the sun over the benches facing Main Street.

Commissioner Jim Steele asked about the condition of a tree in the park directly behind the Council chambers.

“All of the foliage of those trees behind the benches,” Evans said, surveying the branches above him, “all of it and all of the weight is coming from just one side of the tree because other diseased limbs on the west side of the tree have been previously pruned away. You can already see that the tree is being pulled over to the east because those branches over the benches is where all of the weight is.  Maybe it’s an ice storm. Maybe it is a wind storm. Maybe it is just Mother Nature saying it is time for the tree to fall because of its condition, but this is a liability issue waiting to happen.

“I read just this morning of what these trees can potentially mean in very real, human terms,” he added. “In another small town not unlike ours, a three-year old girl who had been playing in the park is now trying to figure things out after a diseased tree fell on her and left her crippled. The course and circumstances of her life tragically changed in a split second.”

The course and circumstances of that little girl’s life tragically changed in a split second.

Commissioner Sue Sweeting, center, listens with others about the dire circumstances of some of the trees, the dangers they pose to park visitors, and the liability they represent.

The potential human cost is of course an emotional issue that no one wishes on any family or individual.  A more practical question is what is the cost to the Town in terms of liability should something happen, especially now that the problem has been brought to light by the study and acknowledged by town officials.

Back in session in the Council chambers, the commissioners, mayor and town manager discussed various courses of action, finally adopting Mayor J.B. Lawrence’s suggestion that since the previous study is now a year old, to see if the NC Forestry service can come back and update their observations and conclusions, even suggesting a plan of action in addressing the most critical needs.

Evans points to a problem maple tree near the Rotary gazebo.

“Nobody wants to see these old trees cut down,” one resident in attendance told Blowing Rock News. “The canopy of shade they provide is part of Memorial Park’s special character.  It is hard to accept that a tree is dead or near dead when you see green leaves sprouting from its branches above you.  But at the same time, it is hard to argue about the problem when you see that foliage on what is described as a diseased tree is not nearly as robust as the nearby healthy tree.  Hopefully, the Town Council and staff, with input from the professionals at the NC Forestry Service, can craft a plan to phase in the tree removal and a replacement strategy. Hopefully, some of these trees can be managed to extend their lives.”

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