A stately monument on the University of Northern Colorado’s central campus, the former state champion silver maple that spans the front lawn of what was once faculty housing, is falling. For a tree novice, the green leaves and impressive shade canopy belie a host of concerns that led to the tree’s recent designation as high risk. The gentle giant, planted around 1900 and once called Colorado’s champion silver maple, should be removed by the end of October.
An open cavity in the trunk of the tree, large enough to be spotted a block away, is what prompted Greeley Town Forester Shiloh Hatcher to take a closer look during a tree assessment at citywide in early September.
During a visit to the tree last week, two members of Hatcher’s forestry team hit several areas around the trunk with a hammer, the hollow echoes confirming problems at the base of the tree. Moving up, Hatcher pointed to additional concerns about the branches above, including pruning cuts where large amounts of wood had already been removed, a dead limb stretching far across a grassy area where people pass each other below, more open cavities and swollen areas on large branches. in the canopy indicating what he called curled wood – a change in normal branch growth in response to injury.
UNC grounds manager Sarah Boyd said the news didn’t necessarily come as a surprise to her. Last year, the tree service, which the university contracts with each year to identify hazards and concerns, recommended the removal of several branches from the tree.
“I knew the silver maple was in decline. Even the decomposition that we see inside the tree, to my eyes, has increased significantly from last year,” Boyd said.
According to Hatcher, part of his job is to figure out when problems are fatal for a tree and when they can try to work around them.
“What we’re trying to do is look at the tree and see if we can reduce the weight or take other steps to mitigate the risk. Withdrawal is always the last option,” Hatcher said. “But all of these problems together have created a problem that I don’t think I can get around. And we have to consider that it’s a campus with people walking under these trees. If this tree fails, one of the consequences is that it may injure someone. Given the age of the tree and the combined areas of concern, we are doing the right thing by removing it. »
The area around the Silver Maple is currently cordoned off and both Hatcher and Boyd urged people to respect the barrier for their own safety.
Valued at over $97,000, the silver maple is the oldest and tallest tree on campus, its trunk measuring over 80 inches in diameter with a canopy that at one point reached nearly 70 feet tall and spanned 85 feet in diameter. Although the tree lost its state champion status several years ago as the canopy shrank due to the reduction of dead wood, it has grown alongside the university for more than a century. Many in the University community would like to see this special tree receive a farewell worthy of its historic stature.
While plans are still evolving, several groups on campus, including the Department of Grounds and Landscaping and University Advancement, as well as several student groups, including the UNC Garden Club, Earth Guardians, and Student Leaf, have already begun discussing ways to preserve the tree’s history. and keep parts of it on campus. To that end, Boyd contacted a local artist to inquire about milling wood for special projects, including making tree cookies (cross-sections of the trunk) for educational or display purposes.
Additionally, UNC anthropology professor Mike Kimball leads a mindfulness affinity group that plans to host an event to honor the tree before it is removed, and Student Leaf is exploring fundraising opportunities. funds to not necessarily replace the loss of the tree, but to honor its purpose. by planting new trees. The university will share more details as they become available.
“I think having a conversation about a campaign to fund the replacement of our 122-year-old tree with 122 new trees is a great idea,” Boyd said. “It’s a lofty goal.”
Learn more about the trees on the UNC campus
Since 2012, UNC has been recognized as a Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation for its commitment to tree preservation, care, and community involvement. Learn about the nearly 3,400 trees that grace our lawns and pathways on the UNC Tree Tour, including the university’s other three State Champion trees:
- Amur cork tree, planted c. 1922
- Kentucky coffee tree, planted c. 1930
- Pecan T, planted c. 1908
— written by Deanna Herbert