Ailing sugar maple succumbs to age

More than a century old, tree with cracked trunk, rotting wood will be felled


March 18, 2004|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

During her 18 years as an employee of Columbia's Town Center Village Association, Helen Ruther would often sit in her office in Historic Oakland and gaze at the old towering sugar maple tree outside her window.

More than a century old, the tree has been a backdrop for weddings and a source of shade during many festivals at the 1811 manor home. But the tree has succumbed to age, with large cracks in the trunk and rotted wood, and the Columbia Association has decided to cut it down.

"It was a great tree," Ruther said. "A nice, old, beautiful tree. It's too bad that it has to go."

The maple likely will be cut down within a week, said Chick Rhodehamel, the Columbia Association's vice president for open-space management. The association plans to replace it with another tree by fall.

"You never feel good about a big, old tree having to come down," Rhodehamel said. "But for safety, you really do have to look at that."

Rhodehamel said the tree's condition has been declining since the Columbia Association acquired Historic Oakland in the late 1980s. The association has performed annual maintenance on the tree - pruning it and giving it nutrients - but the maple hasn't been responding recently.

"Probably the wind of [Tropical Storm] Isabel shook it a little bit more than a normal year," Rhodehamel said.

Growing in a grassy isle in the circular drive of Historic Oakland - a mansion that acts as Town Center's community building and is also a popular place for weddings and monthly teas - the tree is a source of sentimental memories for some residents.

It is one of the older trees in 36-year-old Columbia, which is known for its foliage and acres of open space.

"We hate to see a piece of history and nature have to leave," said Patricia Laidig, Town Center's village manager. "But the Columbia Association has tried real hard to keep it going and just can't anymore."

Ruther, who is one of Columbia's original residents, remembers listening to bands at community festivals while sitting under the tree, which has a trunk about 8 feet in diameter.

"It was a very nice amenity that really went along with the historic house," Ruther said. "But if it's time to go, it's time to go. Nothing can be done about it."

She said part of the reason she worked for Town Center as a covenant adviser for nearly two decades was that it was such a pleasant environment, to which the tree outside her office window contributed.

"It was such a nice place to go," she said.

While the tree's presence will be missed, Ruther said, she doesn't anticipate anyone will "sit there and cry" for it. She's pleased that the association will plant another tree in its place.

"So 100 years from now, somebody else can remark upon it," she said. "I think that's a nice idea."

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