The Lyndon House Willow Oak is set to be removed at the end of the month.
The Athens Clarke County Community Tree Council is responsible for, among other things, designating Landmark and Champion trees throughout the county. (landmark trees from tree ordinance):
Criteria for designation. Landmark trees shall be healthy trees that meet one or more of the following criteria:
- Age greater than 50 years as determined by planting records or the written opinion of an arborist, the Athens-Clarke County Arborist, or the community forester.
- Large canopy trees greater than 36 inches dbh, medium canopy trees greater than 24 inches dbh, and small canopy trees greater than 12 inches dbh.
- National, state, or Athens-Clarke County champion trees.
- Unique or rare species.
- Association with a documented historic event, person, or community landmark.
- Trees planted for Arbor Day celebrations and other community-wide public celebrations.
- Trees planted in honor or memory of an individual or an event.
- Trees belonging to a significant cross-property or neighborhood-wide planting that affect the greater landscape beyond the property on which they grow.
One notable Landmark and Champion tree is the majestic Willow Oak that stands in front of the Lyndon House on the edge of downtown Athens. This tree, honored with champion tree status in 1999 at the ribbon cutting of the Lyndon House arts center is being removed at the end of this month. Didi Dunphy, program supervisor at the Lyndon House and Roger Cauthen, Landscape Management Division Administrator for Athens Clarke County recently discussed the decision to remove the tree as well as some of the plans for the wood and the campus of the Arts Center.
Determining the exact age of the tree has proven to be rather difficult. There is speculation that the tree dates back to the 1850’s. Didi and Roger help explain:
“My look into it for photographic evidence only went back to the 70’s, where I could distinguish that tree in a landscape, and that was at the beginning of the arts facility being in our historic house museum. However, there has been discussions that it could be as old or potentially as close to as old as the house, but we really won’t know until it has fallen and with the hopes that the rings will be distinguishable,” said Didi
Roger elaborates, “As long as I have been witnessing the tree, since 1980, it’s been in a similar size and form with the fluted trunk. So when I first began to observe the tree and be a part of the local government, it was regarded even then as a significant tree.”
The decision to remove the tree was not altogether unexpected.
“I’ve been in place as the supervisor for a year and a half now. At the time, Roger came over, very early on and told me that several arborists had been looking at it and that it looked like it was entering the end of its life cycle and I had thought maybe 3 years, but it’s accelerated. And it’s based on a number of dead, large dead branches, that for me as a facility with a lot of people and youth has become hazardous period,” Didi said.
Mitigation efforts had been made for many years to preserve the life of the tree.
“It’s been mulched with organic mulch for a very long time now. It has a lightning rod system that has been maintained and restored every several years for quite some time. It has over 20 support cables in the scaffold limbs of the tree to reduce the risk that limbs would break away and fall out and disfigure the tree – that are all a part of its whole integrity now,” Roger said.
Being an arts center, there are naturally plans to honor the tree through art as well as use some of the wood, if salvageable. Oneta Woodworks has also agreed to partner with the county to dry, store,and mill the wood.
“My goal is to try to make the sadness a little less. But it will be a tremendous loss because that is a majestic tree,” said Didi.
There are plans to use pictures painted by children inspired by Klimt along with historic paintings of the tree and photographs taken throughout the years to create a 2d exhibit in honor of the tree. Depending on the condition of the heart and interior of the tree, wood sections could be used to create a bench for Sandy Creek Nature Center and outdoor seating at the Lyndon House which the UGA Landscape Architect Department will help design. Burls may be used by a local woodturners group that meets at the arts center.
As far as replacing the tree, Roger has been counting acorns dropped by the oak in hopes that at least one will grow into a sapling. However, bugs,
rain, and squirrels did not leave many to choose from.
“Roger has promised me a bank of trees along the edge of that part of the campus to give it a buffering,” said Didi.
Roger added, “that tree has been so dominant in its presence and character over the years that it’s impossible to replace that architecture there. But at least in the interim period perhaps while we get a seedling going, we would like to have a tree presence along that edge.”
If you are interested in using wood for an arts project and possible art exhibition, please contact Didi Dunphy at firstname.lastname@example.org