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Tree at park entrance felled after 100 years

Ashland&

s oldest non-native resident, a Tree of Heaven that was planted more than 100 years ago between Lithia Park and the Plaza, was laid to rest today.

&

It&

s probably the oldest tree planted in what is now Lithia Park,&

said Don Todt, Ashland Parks Department&

s horticultural specialist, noting that this Ailanthus altissima tree actually pre-dates Lithia Park. &

It&

s been one of my favorites. Some people look at Ailanthus trees as weed trees. But this one always had a nice form to it. It&

s one of the nicest deciduous trees in the park.&

Or, it was.

Today, Beaver Tree Service of Medford was in Ashland to give the tree its final sendoff. After years of trimming back its branches and cabling together its heavy leaders, the Ashland Tree Commission made a decision earlier this year that it was time to take the tree down.

&

It&

s an inevitable day that the city of Ashland has handled as best as it could,&

Bryan Holley, chair of the tree commission, said as the arborists began to cut away the Tree of Heaven&

s branches. &

It&

s a lesson in mortality. I had a few moments to myself the other day and I wondered just how many events this tree has witnessed in Ashland. It&

s been one of the longest participants in the city of Ashland.&

In fact, the Tree of Heaven, which was honored as the city&

s tree of the year in 1989, predates Ashland. While historical records do not indicate when it was planted, old photos show it standing at least 20 feet high in the 1890&

s. Local folklore says the Tree of Heaven was planted by a Chinese cook of Abel Helman, one of Ashland&

s founding fathers, though this long-told Ashland myth has never been substantiated.

In more recent history, the Tree of Heaven has grown weak and has begun to rot from the top down. For years, the Parks Department has taken measures to ensure its survival and safety. Even the arborists who were here today to remove it have, in the past, done work to preserve it.

&

We&

ve cabled it, lightened it up. We&

ve been trying to delay this for years,&

Todt said. &

But now it&

s time to deal with it. We&

ve reached a point where we can&

t wait anymore. I was always hoping we could put it off until after I retire, but it didn&

t work out that way.&

However, there are plans to reincarnate Ashland&

s oldest street tree.

William Olsen, a local furniture maker and woodworker, has worked with the city in order to salvage the felled lumber in order to make a special sculpture out of the Ailanthus&

remains.

&

It&

s not a popular tree for furniture making because it is soft wood,&

said Olsen, who recently returned to Ashland from his studies at the Australian School of Fine Furniture. &

I just thought something could be done with this tree.&

His idea, not knowing yet what its wood will yield, is to construct a very large Chinese-style table. &

It kind of goes with its history and who planted it,&

he said.

Olsen said he has considered putting an etching of the tree onto the table top, or perhaps using another woodworking technique in order to honor the Ailanthus. Once complete, he will donate it to the city, maybe to be used at the council chambers, he said.

&

It could be a grand table top,&

he said. &

These trees never get to be this size.&

Holley asked Olsen this morning if he could make a gavel to be used by the tree commission at their meetings.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 x 226 or bplain@dailytidings.com.