Fayette County

Troubled trees taken down in Gratz park

Taking a chain saw to Gratz Park is like lighting a match in a firecracker store. People get nervous.

However, neighbors were calm on Monday morning as Dennis Douglas, an employee of Bailey & Sons Tree Service, was hoisted to the top of a large yellow poplar tree and started cutting.

Four 100-year-old yellow poplars will be taken out this week after a survey found them to be structurally weakened. One has been hit by lightning, and another had a large wound at the base. All have bug infestations.

The Gratz Park Neighborhood Association decided to remove the trees after hiring an arborist to survey 97 trees in the park and evaluate their health and projected life span, association president John Hackworth said.

"I'm not sure how critical their situation is, but they all have structural issues," said arborist Dave Leonard, who conducted the survey. "They still have plenty of wood holding them up, but if they fell on somebody, the city would be liable."

If a healthy tree falls and hurts somebody, it's considered an act of nature, Leonard said. "If a known defective tree falls on somebody, it's negligence."

The trees being taken down were planted following the original design for Gratz Park created by the firm of Frederick Law Olmsted, a noted 19th-century landscape designer.

"We're not taking down trees that date back to the time of early settlers," said Tim Queary, the city's urban forester.

When the four trees were found to be in declining health, Gratz Park residents decided they wanted "a gradual, planned replacement of trees, rather than all of a sudden look around one day and see 15 of them ready to go," Hackworth said.

What kinds of trees will be planted back has not been decided. The neighborhood group has applied for a city grant to help pay for the replacements.

The tree survey is part of a master plan for Gratz Park conducted after the downtown neighborhood received one of seven national Preserve America Community Awards given out in 2006 by then-first lady Laura Bush.

The designation made the park eligible for a $45,000 matching grant from Preserve America to develop a park master plan, looking at such things as park landscaping, trees and location of utilities. Neighbors came up with the $45,000 match.

Leonard praised Gratz Park for assessing the health of its trees, unlike last year, when the suggestion was made to take down two damaged trees in . "People over there practically chained themselves to the trees," he said. "It was like, 'This tree is hollow, but you can't take it down.'"

Queary acknowledged that Woodland Park has several "over-mature trees" that need attention. "That's probably the next area we'll have to take a close look at," he said.