Archive for Wednesday, August 30, 2000

Black Oak was older than most

August 30, 2000

Baldwin City has lost a friend of 180 years. A Black Oak tree that had stood for almost two centuries near the main branch of the East Fork of Tauy Creek was felled to protect the city's electrical system.

"It was a special tree," said Roger Boyd, Baker University professor. "I think there's a definite reason that the tree was there and it was the little stream. It wouldn't have gotten burned by prairie fires.

"It was here long before white settlers," said Boyd.

The tree, which Boyd has counted 180 rings on, first sprouted somewhere around 1820. It witnessed the founding of Baldwin City and Baker University, statehood in 1861, stood during two World Wars and many other historic dates.

More recently, it provided shade for Boy Scouts at the cabin just north of where it stood. It stood while two swimming pools were built just to the east of it.

"It was an observer," Boyd said.

Now it will be used in Boyd's classes at Baker. He was able to save a good chunk of the trunk.

"I'll use it for my botany class," he said.

The tree had a diameter of 50.6 inches and a 13-foot-3 circumference. According to the Kansas Champion Trees book, it was just smaller than the state's biggest and oldest Black Oak, which has a diameter of 52.4 inches and a circumference of 13-5. It's still standing in Leavenworth County.

Boyd was saddened to see it cut down after a branch of the tree had broken Aug. 13, fell onto a main feeder line of the city's electrical system and blacked out the entire town. He's not sure it needed to be cut down.

"From a tree lover's standpoint, no I don't think it needed to be cut down," said Boyd. "But, I have to admit I don't know the extenuating circumstances for why they made that decision."

City Administrator Larry Paine said it was a tough decision, but one that had to be made.

"I empathize with Roger's position," said Paine. "I'd love to have trees like that in my back yard. But when we were out there to look at the tree, the answer (on whether to cut it down or not) was yes.

"It looked like there had been some earlier trimming. There looked like there was another limb about the same size that could fall. Once you start butchering a tree by cutting limbs from one side it gets out of balance. It becomes a wind danger because it's one sided," he said. "It didn't look healthy to begin with. My assessment was I think we've got a problem with this tree."

As Boyd reflects on the tree now, he's amazed that it had lasted this long.

"Why didn't this get cut down for the saw mill?" he wonders about Baldwin's early history. "The founder of the city, John Baldwin, had a sawmill at Fifth and Indiana. That's probably why there aren't any more big ones along the creek. They probably just didn't get this far down the creek."

It's gone now and there's nothing that can be done. But, Boyd hopes there's a lesson to be learned.

"I think that the take home message is old, large trees like this are rare and need to be protected," said Boyd.

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