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Benton-Stephens landmark tree falls

Wednesday, August 29, 2012 | 6:40 p.m. CDT; updated 9:22 a.m. CDT, Thursday, August 30, 2012
A 50-foot swamp white oak tree in Lions-Stephens Park was cut down Wednesday. A large branch from the tree recently broke off and fell to the ground, prompting Columbia Parks and Recreation to order its removal.

*An earlier version of this story had incorrect information about when the Columbia City Council will be notified of the tree removal. The council will be notified on Sept. 17.

COLUMBIA — Residents of the Benton-Stephens neighborhood lamented the loss Wednesday of a swamp white oak that had to be cut down in Lions-Stephens Park.

“We never like seeing big, ancient trees fall,” said Dave Dittmer, the city forester for Columbia Parks and Recreation. “But it was becoming quite a safety hazard.”

The tree had a circumference of about 14 feet, but its age was impossible to determine because rot had obliterated most of its rings. Dittmer said that swamp white oaks tend to be fairly slow-growing and estimated the tree to be about 200 years old.

After the top of the tree fell off years ago, the hole that remained allowed water to seep in and begin rotting the wood. Then about a month and a half ago, a limb fell off in the middle of the night for no apparent reason.

That worried Dittmer because the park is popular and heavily used for picnics and recreation.

Dittmer conducted a hazard analysis of the tree. One of the steps included an aerial inspection from a bucket truck, which allowed him to see a huge hole in the center of the tree, going down 10 to 12 feet.

Because of its size, removal of the tree had to be approved by the Parks and Recreation director. The director will notify the Columbia City Council of the removal on Sept. 17.* The  tree was considered an immediate threat, which is why the council will be notified after the fact.

But Kip Kendrick, the Benton-Stephens Neighborhood Association president, said that the community wasn't notified. Some residents saw it as a neighborhood landmark.

“I’m just disappointed that the city did not contact the neighborhood,” said Kendrick, who had watched the preparations for felling the tree. “We feel like we deserved to know the fate of the tree.”

Bob Pund, who lives near the park and came over after the tree was cut down, said he'd found beauty in its imperfections. “It was kind of artistic with the top blown off,” he said. “It's hollow and rot made it better, in some ways.” 

Most of the wood will be taken to the landfill because it was rotten, groundskeeper Eric Schmittel said.

“If it’s solid, we could make benches,” he said.

Some smaller branches were to be saved, possibly for the neighborhood to make a memorial or do carvings. 

Resident Emma Rohwer was philosophical about the felling. “There’s something about oaks that resonates with people,” she said.

“We all get old at some point,” Dittmer said.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.


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Comments

Kip Kendrick August 30, 2012 | 8:13 a.m.

The City Council was not notified of the tree removal. An assessment of the tree was performed immediately after the limb fell, 1.5 months ago. Paperwork was submitted to recommend the tree removal to City Council as is the case in all trees over 30" in diameter. It is my understanding that it was slated to be on the next agenda for the Council meeting. Then, the City deemed it an "immediate hazard," which bypassed Council and public notification and took it down the next day. I'm not going to argue to state of the tree. I just don't understand why the neighborhood never knew about the removal. It seems that the City had over one month to inform us. The lack of communication is frustrating.

(Report Comment)
Mike Griggs August 30, 2012 | 11:30 a.m.

On behalf of the Columbia Parks & Recreation Department, we want to stress that this tree was not removed without a significant investigation & consideration.
In a 2009, Council approved the below procedure for tree removals:
1. Tree Hazard Evaluation Forms will be completed by the Department's certified International Society of Arboriculture Forester.
2. Trees larger than 20-inch DBH but smaller than 30-inch DBH must have the approval of the Park Development Supt and the Park Services Manager to be removed.
3. Trees larger than 30-inch DBH must have the approval of the P&R Director who will notify Council that the tree or trees will be removed.
4. Any size tree that presents an immediate danger to the public shall be removed immediately.
Any decision to remove a hazardous tree in the parks is a public safety decision. Three certified foresters, including the City's Arborist, investigated the tree. Their investigations revealed serious problems associated with a hollow tree cavity & rot at locations where limbs attach to the trunk. Their conclusion was that there was eminent danger of the large limbs continuing to break from the trunk presenting an immediate threat to the safety of park patrons, sidewalk users, & possibly vehicles on Williams St. All three foresters recommended that the tree be removed immediately. Staff was also concerned that with increased activity in the park due to the Labor Day weekend combined with the predicted storms (heavy rain/high wind), would only add to the risk of an accident. Management staff concurred with the recommendation that the tree should be immediately removed & directed staff to proceed. A Council report on the removal of the tree is being prepared for the 09/17/12 Council agenda.
At this time, the tree removal procedure does not require that the Department contact neighborhood associations regarding the removal of trees in existing parks. Historically, neighborhood associations have not been notified in advance regarding items the Department has considered necessary and normal maintenance of a park such as repair or removal of damaged equipment, removal of graffiti, and correction of any situation deemed to create a safety hazard or concern to park users. Staff does work closely with the neighborhoods on all major development/renovation projects and regularly participates in annual neighborhood association gatherings when invited, using that as an opportunity to discuss management issues related to the parks. The Benton-Stephens Assoc has been a very active & the Department has worked closely with its members on all park development projects related to Lion-Stephens Park. Mr. Kendrick has been very involved in the most current discussions and the Department appreciates the efforts he makes to support the park. In this specific case, the Department regrets not officially contacting Mr. Kendrick in advance regarding the decision to remove the tree from the park.

(Report Comment)
Mike Griggs August 30, 2012 | 11:32 a.m.

Here's a link to the report that outlined the procedure for tree removals in the parks.

http://www.gocolumbiamo.com/Council/Bill...

(Report Comment)
Kip Kendrick August 30, 2012 | 12:54 p.m.

Thanks, Mike. I want to make it clear that I don't question the City's assessment of the tree.

(Report Comment)
Kevin Gamble August 30, 2012 | 1:04 p.m.

To be honest, I can't remember the last time I was impressed or pleased with the way the city has handled any significant tree removal.

Added to the truly unfortunate removal of mature shade trees along Walnut prompted by the Odles' latest blight of a development at College, the central city is at its lowest ebb in my memory for natural beauty.

I'd like to see the city make this issue a higher priority. We're losing things that are meaningful, and all we seem to get back in their place is mulch, meager non-native tree plantings, and the kind of weirdly artificial/fake landscaping we're seeing at Stephens Park (including junk rock from quarries, fake fountains, and lots of concrete).

It's a sad excuse for progress.

(Report Comment)
Kevin Gamble August 30, 2012 | 1:13 p.m.

To be honest, I can't remember the last time I was impressed or pleased with the way the city has handled any

significant tree removal.

Added to the truly unfortunate removal of mature shade trees along Walnut prompted by the Odles' latest blight of a

development at College, the central city is at its lowest ebb in my memory for natural beauty.

I'd like to see the city make this issue a higher priority. We're losing things that are meaningful, and all we seem

to get back in their place is mulch, meager non-native tree plantings, and the kind of weirdly artificial/fake

landscaping we're seeing at Stephens Park (including junk rock from quarries, fake fountains, and lots of concrete).

It's a sad excuse for progress.

(Report Comment)
Kevin Gamble August 30, 2012 | 1:14 p.m.

(Sorry for the duplicate post. The first comment did not post successfully until after the second was added. Moderators, feel free to delete the second comment and this one, please.)

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin August 30, 2012 | 1:50 p.m.

"I just don't understand why the neighborhood never knew about the removal," Kip Kendrick writes. "It seems that the City had over one month to inform us. The lack of communication is frustrating."

..."the Department regrets not contacting..." Parks administrator Mike Griggs responds, in a longish post that desperately needs better formatting.

This marks the second reported case where neighbors weren't informed about significant city-motivated tree removals within the last few months. The first one caused a great deal of grief.

http://www.columbiamissourian.com/storie...

Please Parks administrators: You get every parks tax increase you want. Don't blow off simple courtesies to the people paying the bills. Whenever I've observed them, the two Mikes who run the joint are kind of grumpily non-communicative, and I wish they'd realize there's no reason to be grumpy with a public that likes its parks so much. Smile, make that phone call, reach out. Most of the neighbors I know around here don't bite.

Goes for public works, too.

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders August 30, 2012 | 5:39 p.m.

The idea that the City should call and notify anyone/everyone about removing a tree in a park is pure idiocy.

They already spend over a million dollars a day "serving" the public. But it seems there's always those who demand even more.

I wonder if they ever stop to consider the cost to society for their immaturity? Just how many people need to be impoverished so that we might have this invaluable service?

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams August 30, 2012 | 6:23 p.m.

I do understand folks attachment to trees. After all, I've planted over a thousand on my own farm and they are now approaching 6" DBH (diameter at breast height).

But, I also have many other trees on the farm, and several are quite large...especially the white oaks and several walnuts/pecans/red oaks and not a few black cherry.

It's important to realize that very large trees are closer to death than life. So long as they stay healthy, it's fine and proper to argue for leaving them...all other things being equal. But, if things are not "equal"....like needs for a road, building walls cracking, sidewalk upheaval, etc., it's proper to consider removal of even a large, healthy tree.

It's easy for us to become "attached" to a huge tree. But, at the first sign of disease or instability, doesn't it make sense to harvest the tree and make something of some very fine wood? You've enjoyed it, your neighbors have enjoyed it...but if you leave it to decay then those who come after you will only be looking at a problem. Why be selfish? Perhaps it's better to harvest the tree, make something of it, and plant a new one that others who come after will enjoy.

Yes, I know that most loggers will NOT take a "yard" tree because of the risk there is metal or another foreign object in it, but are there not public ways of dealing with this?

The tree in this article should have been harvest looooong ago. Perhaps even decades. Its condition is a real shame. If it had been harvested, and another planted, there would now be a 20-30 y/o healthy tree in it's place.

Instead, all we have is a stump and those who come after will just have to wait.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin August 30, 2012 | 10:09 p.m.

"The idea that the City should call and notify anyone/everyone about removing a tree in a park is pure idiocy."

Who said "anyone/everyone?" Benton-Stephens neighborhood association president Kip Kendrick is the only name I saw.

And who said "call?" The two Mikes at Parks and Rec sitting down to personally telephone everyone in Benton-Stephens about removing an old tree!

That does sound downright stupid, but since we live in a day of innumerable rapid, online communications tools -- listservs, Facebook, and so forth -- all of which the city maintains and uses -- notifying even all the neighbors wouldn't have been that hard.

I submit to you that it was NOT done because the grumpy old men didn't want any protests.

(Report Comment)
Kaleb Rippstein August 31, 2012 | 1:11 p.m.

If the city took the time to notify, and in the meantime another limb fell and knocked somebody out, the neighborhood would cry foul that the city didn't take decisive action and as a result there was an injury.

What must the city notify neighborhoods of and what can they just act upon? City property, city tree, city decision.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin September 1, 2012 | 8:36 a.m.

What time does it take today to notify a neighborhood about something? I can notify thousands of people across 8 different CoMo neighborhoods about virtually anything in a matter of about 5 minutes via simple listservs.

And last I checked, WE own the city and city employees work for us. "City property, city tree, city decision" makes zero sense in a democracy.

(Report Comment)

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