Water Oaks have long been one of the most dominant tree species in Athens which is attributable to its prolific acorn production, rapid growth rate, and adaptability to poor growing conditions. Aggressive planting programs in the first two decades of the 20th century also helped Water Oaks establish a firm place in the Athens Urban landscape.
Water Oak is located in Wilcox Triangle in Five Points in Athens. Wilcox Triangle is a small park area that New Urban Forestry adopted — we help care for the trees in this green space.
Another view of the Wilcox Triangle Water Oak. While it is not a Champion Tree, it is one of the larger Water Oaks in the county.
By Jessie McClellan
A historic cemetery sits just on the edge of the campus of The University of Georgia with an entrance across from Sanford Stadium. Tucked away, many drive past daily without ever having stepped foot in this park-like resting place. The Oconee Hill Cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places List in 2013 in the areas of Architecture, Art, Landscape Architecture, Community Planning and Development, Ethnic Heritage: Black, Ethnic Heritage: Jewish, Engineering, and remains a grand example of the landscape architecture style of the 19th century.
The land for Oconee Hill Cemetery was purchased in 1855, complete with many graves that predate the opening of the cemetery. Gravesites were created across the campus before the opening, which highlighted the need for a public cemetery. The original 17 acres were purchased for $1000, but the site quickly expanded in 1898 to include an additional 82 acres. Many notable people are interred at Oconee Hill, including several former UGA presidents, governors, aviation pioneer Ben Epps, and Ricky Wilson, guitarist of the B-52’s.
One of the notable features of the cemetery is the landscape architecture, as recognized in the National Register. It was originally designed by a member of the UGA faculty, James Camak, and features a park-like setting that is reminiscent of botanical gardens and arboretums. Oconee Hill’s architecture demonstrates styles consistent with the features of the Rural Cemetery Movement of the time. Unfortunately, little has been done over the years to preserve the trees and landscape.
A group of community members formed the Friends of the Oconee Hill Cemetery in 1999. One of their major accomplishments, among many others, includes acquiring federal grant funding from the Historic Preservation Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (with the help of Athens-Clarke County) for the management of the trees on the property. This grant funding, which is matched by donations by the friends group and others, will allow for Phase Two of a project to preserve and protect the trees on the grounds and replace trees that have been removed.
Phase 1: a tree Inventory, completed in 2015, was also grant-funded. The inventory identified 40 species of trees of 563 trees inventoried with an average diameter of 20 inches. This does not include the forest on the periphery which averages 127 trees per acre. The inventory found that many of the trees had been poorly pruned and/or were diseased. It also determined many invasive species on the property, including English ivy and privet.
Work was completed in early 2017 on the tree maintenance plan for the burial ground. Phase 2 prioritizes high risk issues that could cause damage to existing markers. This phase involved the removal of dead and hazardous trees and trees with dead limbs, along with reducing the risk of dead limb failures. These projects will help to preserve some of the mature canopy throughout the grounds. To meet inventory recommendations, the invasive plants must also be removed so that native species will be allowed to thrive.
This urban forest is a vital asset to the Athens community. The management of the trees is essential to preserving this historic burial ground, as well as allowing for future interments, as it is still an active cemetery. New Urban Forestry is honored to be a part of the continued efforts to maintain this historic landmark.
For more information on The Oconee Hill Cemetery, please visit the official website or see Oconee Hill Cemetary of Athens, Georgia, Volume I, written by Charlotte Marshall. See the video for a more in depth look.
This preservation project has been financed in part with Federal funds from the National Park Service, U.S. Department of Interior, through the historic Preservation Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. However, the contents, opinions, and recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of the Interior or the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, nor does the mention of trade names, commercial products or consultants constitute endorsement or recommendation by these agencies. This program receives Federal financial assistance for identification and protection of historic properties. Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, as amended, the U.S. Department of Interior prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, gender or disability in its federally assisted programs. If you believe you have been discriminated against in any program, activity , or facility as described above, or if you desire further information, please write to: Office for Equal opportunity, National Park Service, 1849 C Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20240.
As the cooler fall weather moves in and changes our landscapes from summer green to shades of yellow, gold, and orange; you may begin to see one persistent pest that refuses to give up the green. In fact, it refuses to give up at all. Under the cloak of your trees’ leaves, mistletoe has found itself a home. Whether it be on the humble Hackberry or your prized Texas Red Oak, it has been growing—pulling its moisture from the host.
One of nature’s most harmful “bird gifts”, mistletoe seeds, move from one landscape to another looking for that perfect arboreal environment. The two and three year old wood on Cedar Elms and Hackberry trees are prime real estate, but a few other local species will do in a pinch. Once the location is right, the seed germinates and a strange, opportunistic root-like structure finds an opening in the bark and taps in to the tree’s vascular system. Mistletoe becomes a tree squatter, ready to take the neighborhood.
Urban Soils and Tree Root Issues
A couple of years ago, during a notably large storm, a prodigious water oak fell on my neighbors’ house. This beautiful old tree could not support the weight of the branches because the root system had been compromised from years of cars rolling, parking and compacting the soil surrounding the base. Fortunately, in this case, the family was not in the house and only the house and tree were compromised, but it offers valuable insight into the damage that human activity can cause the trees in our community.
The dirt around us is constantly changing. Wind and heat and gravity and water all affect our soils. These are important positive components in creating an environment for many ecosystems. In an urban environment, one additional component is changing the soil around us: people.
People have a huge impact on the urban soils. Enormous cavities are dug for underground parking decks, the Georgia red clay is hauled away and piled to be used somewhere else, it is added to other tracts for other projects. The soil is leveled and graded and compacted. It is walked on and parked on, played baseball on and picknicked upon. Human activity is one of the main contributing factor in the changing urban soils.
This changing soilscape directly impacts the growing trees around us. Without careful consideration to how we impact the soils, human activity can have serious negative effects on our canopy.
One negative impact is the creation of a surface crust. This is caused by removal of the natural vegetation combined with compaction caused by foot traffic or wheels, and fine particles filtering in and filling in gaps beneath the surface. This hard crust doesn’t allow water to seep into the ground and be absorbed by the tree roots.
Water drainage and insufficient aeration can have a negative impact on the absorption capabilities of the trees. If the soil is too fine, such as with clay soils, it can become water-logged which can be equally bad for the root system.
When a new home is built, the ground must first be leveled. During this process, the topsoil is removed and often fill material is brought in from somewhere else. This can create layers in the soil that are different from the natural makeup of the land. This can be damaging to existing trees and can cause problems when planting replacements. The change in soil composition, including the ph and chemical makeup as well as density of the soil can prevent trees from receiving the nutrients they need to thrive.
There are several ways to remediate these effects on our trees. The first is to be aware of abused areas of your own landscape. Pay attention to where you park, where your children play, or areas that see more foot traffic. Try to park in areas that are far away from trees or only on existing parking pads. Divert traffic away from natural areas or create trails that have proper erosion control.
If you notice that the roots have been damaged in your landscape, there are plant healthcare guidelines that can prolong the life of your trees and repair damaged soilscapes. Contact a certified arborist to help with your tree concerns and you can hopefully prevent your trees from falling during the summer storms.
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 email@example.com
When I was in college at UGA one of my favorite things about living in Athens was driving into town late at night after Thanksgiving break, the end of a long drive back from visiting my parents in Virginia . Every year, I would drive down Clayton Street first thing, even if it wasn’t on my way, and I marveled at the sparkling lights in the trees, newly lit for the holidays. It was beautiful. And it reminded me of why I chose to live in Athens, so far away from my family.
Trees provide such a sense of place. My final year of college, I lived on the cobblestone portion of Finley Street, home to another famous Athens tree.
Would Athens even be on the map if it weren’t for the Tree that Owns Itself? (of course) That particular tree doesn’t just put Athens on the map for something other than music, but it also represents the spirit of the town.
When you plant trees, you might not be thinking about who will decorate them with lights in the future, or even if you want to leave your money to it when you die, but you are creating a history of the land and defining a sense of place for future generations to recognize as home.
As the climate talks in Paris come to a close, it’s hard to ignore the chatter about greenhouse gases, carbon footprints and emission levels. One method that some people are using to combat the rising level of greenhouse gases is through carbon offsetting through tree planting.
On a large scale, companies pay to have others, often non-profits, plant trees on their behalf in order to offset their emissions. According to an article in The Guardian, “Carbon offset schemes allow individuals and companies to invest in environmental projects around the world in order to balance out their own carbon footprints.”
But this leads to questions on an individual level — will planting trees in my backyard really have an effect? Or, how many trees do I really need to plant? Can I do my own carbon offsetting?
There are several calculators available like this one or this one which will calculate offset for you. So for example, if you drive a gas car that gets 26 mpg and on average 12,000 miles per year, this calculator recommends you plant 9 trees to offset the emissions from your car. This puts into perspective real tangible ways to help the environment. I can plant 9 trees. That seems feasible.
New Urban Forestry is not a carbon offsetting program, and we can’t tell you exactly how many trees you personally should plant. We CAN however help you to plant your trees. We can offer advice on the care of your trees and also which trees are sustainable in the Athens and surrounding areas.
New Urban Forestry often is called on to remove trees due to safety concerns; we are charged with removing a valuable resource from our local community. We want to be able to replant those trees.
Together we can continue to give Athens a unique sense of place, and also create a more sustainable world for our future.
Soon, New Urban Forestry will be at a shopping center near you! No, we don’t sell groceries. Our company is moving into commercial locations to beautify the appearance and make a more pleasant experience. The health of trees will be improved and maintenance costs reduced, if the Arborists at New Urban Forestry work for you. Customers of New Urban Forestry will notice the quality of the tree work around their businesses.