Tree's fall resounds in city neighborhood

Concern: After a 120-foot oak came down, some Roland Parkers worry about the fate of other trees in their area.

January 15, 2003|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

A cherished 150-year-old oak tree that toppled in one of Baltimore's greenest neighborhoods has touched off worries that Roland Park's aging tree population might be starting to wither.

It's been three weeks since the 120-foot oak tree rocked and fell in the Goldsmith family's back garden, but the impact is still being talked about, with a handful of neighborhood residents wondering whether more of Roland Park's oldest trees could soon end up the same way.

"Everyone's very concerned," said Leslie Goldsmith. She and her husband, Blake, own the property on Boulder Lane where the tree fell. "The neighbors came over and it became the focal point" of neighborhood talk.

Trees are an integral part of Roland Park's character. Many century-old trees are prevalent throughout the neighborhood - one of Baltimore's most picturesque - and city officials say that the "urban forest" quality adds to the value of the community's housing. Officials said mature trees can add up to 20 to 25 percent to a home's market value.

Goldsmith, 45, said the oak lying outside the window seemed healthy before it fell. Comparing notes with neighbors and garden club friends, she said, their oak was the fifth tall tree to fall in a two-block radius in recent years.

Marion Bedingfield, a city tree expert, said the loss of a tree that has lasted through generations of a family can often be traumatic for property owners. But he said that although the tree population in Roland Park and nearby neighborhoods is aging, there doesn't seem to be any obvious cause for alarm.

"Folks buy into that [Roland Park] neighborhood because of its majestic trees, which are irreplaceable," Bedingfield said. "The neighborhood was planted, as opposed to the trees being planted."

The average tree reaches maturity at 100 years, he said, and generally lives longer the farther away it is from a city center.

Bedingfield said he sympathizes with the Goldsmiths. "You want to go to someone's heart, mess with their trees," he said.

But, he adds, the bottom line is that "any tree can fall."

Leslie Goldsmith, who runs an event-planning business with her husband from their home, said their tree might have been weakened by last year's long drought.

Other factors could have been the Christmas Day snow and ice storm - or just old age.

"It's about 150 years old, I'd say," Goldsmith said in her rustic back yard. "It's older than the house," which, she added, was built 100 years ago.

She said the neighborhood's tallest trees seem to be showing signs of their advanced age.

"We're getting to the peak," she said.

A neighbor, John Cosby, said he also is worried about the trees.

"We're all losing oaks," he said. "It's terrible."

City arborists said that the neighborhood's forested character began before the first house was built more than 100 years ago because the original developer - the Olmsted Bros. firm - wanted to preserve the parklike atmosphere of the area. Proposed houses were often built among the trees, rather than in place of them.

Oak trees can live more than two centuries under ideal conditions, officials said, as demonstrated by Maryland's famous 460-year-old Wye Oak, which fell in a storm in June.

Looking for a silver lining, Goldsmith said the fall of her oak tree has opened up space for her garden, and other possibilities.

"I can grow lilacs, my only compensation," she said. "And we can have a chain saw party."

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