When a tree like this gets cut down, it can alarm the public. But in this case, the action is necessary, says Peter Debes, a naturalist and member of Friends of Washington Grove. The tree's long history is catching up with it. It's no longer healthy, Debes says, and it poses a danger to neighbors and park visitors. The tree is rotting at its core, he says, which is a particular problem since the tree now leans into Nunda Boulevard.
"It's virtually hollowed out," says city spokesperson Gary Walker.
The city tries to avoid cutting down trees within the grove unless it has to, Walker says. But in this case, if the tree falls it'd probably take out power lines and may damage neighboring property. The city hasn't yet scheduled a date to take the tree down.
The tree owes its current state to a pair of lightning strikes dating back at least 15 years, Debes says. The tree completely healed from the strikes, he says, but during the long healing process, insect and fungal infestations set in, which weakened the tree.
"This is what happens to older trees and eventually causes their death," Debes says.
The city's forester has promised Friends of Washington Grove that the group will be able to take a slice of the tree trunk, Debes says, which will reveal how old the tree is. And the group wants to match historical information to some of the growth rings, creating a display similar to the tree section shown at the entrance to the Lamberton Conservatory in Highland Park.
Sometime within the next few weeks, the City of Rochester will take down the oldest and largest black oak in Washington Grove, a stand of old-growth trees adjacent to Cobbs Hill Park. The tree is actually one of the largest black oaks in the country.