FAIRHOPE – Arborists are working to save a massive Fairhope oak that has stood near Mobile Bay since before the city was founded but has been damaged by recent hurricanes and termites.
City officials recently discovered that that the trunk of the live oak at Bayfront Park had split, Richard Johnson, Fairhope public works director, said.
“It is a multi-trunk, very, very large mature live oak,” Johnson said. “The large trunk that basically branches toward the north has, a fissure has occurred, meaning that the bark is broken and there is a visible rip where it connects to the main part of the trunk. That may have been prompted by Hurricane Sally and followed by Zeta, we do not know. It could be part of the natural process and life cycle of the tree, but when the different arborists looked at it, a couple of issues became apparent.”
Issues included an infestation of termites feeding on the damaged wood in the injured areas of the tree, Johnson said.
“It seems to be we have a little vector issue. Some termites have taken up residence in that tree and they may be going after any of the wood that is compromised in it,” Johnson said. “The recommendation was not only to treat for the vector issue, but to trim the tree to lessen the chance of a complete fracture of the trunk and the associated limbs as well.”
The City Council voted Monday, July 12 to hire arborist Chris Francis to repair the tree at a cost of $9,589.
Johnson said the tree has been a landmark in Fairhope for decades.
“It’s just really a nice specimen of a live oak and the location is very prominent,” he said. “I’ve been reminded that many folks have gotten married under that tree.”
Councilman Kevin Boone said he recalled seeing the tree when he was a child in Fairhope. He said the oak should not be lost to future generations.
“I grew up with that tree,” Boone said. “I spent my entire life tearing trees down doing construction work, but this one really bothers me. That tree means something to me.”
Council President Jack Burrell said the oak is worth the cost of preservation for the future.
“It’s a lot of money to save a tree, but if you amortize that over the next 300 years, $300 a tree over the next 300 years,” Burrell said. “A pretty good investment.”
Crews will secure the tree using steel cables, plates and braces. Johnson said a similar project on a live oak in Centennial Park in Daphne was done more than 10 years ago and has worked well.
The process will allow the Fairhope tree to heal and gives the oak its best chance of survival, Johnson said.
“Frankly our two choices are, we can do nothing and maybe the tree heals on its own and it continues to move on, and we don’t ever have a problem, or we could end up having a failure of that tree and that challenge is the cost of cleanup may be more than the immediate efforts that we’re proposing here,” Johnson said.
Francis said after the council vote that he felt the city made a good decision to spend the money to save the oak.
“I just didn’t want to wind up seeing that tree cut down because somebody thought it was more feasible to just remove it rather than invest some money in it,” Francis said.