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.
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