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Champion Trees Saved by Tree Champions

On May 26, a pair of very gratifying collaborations took form at an improbable site along the northern edge of Huntley Meadows Park. Along this boundary grow two County Champion trees. These trees, Swamp Chestnut Oaks, are estimated to be about 200 years old. They are enormous trees, the largest being over 16 feet in circumference and over 75 feet high. The collaborations regarding these trees began to take shape over a year ago.

Collaboration 1: Friends of Huntley Meadows was made aware of these trees early last year, and was told that they probably need some attention and work by professional arborists. It had been a long time since they had had a "check-up", if ever. The problem was that there was no money in the County budget to pay for such work. At the same time this problem surfaced, the Friends of Huntley Meadows was seeking ways to form closer working ties to its sister organization, the Friends of Historic Huntley. Each group had close and overlapping interests, but operated in very different spheres - one emphasizing natural history, the other cultural history. But the common denominator was Huntley - the Park and the historic house. So, together, we sought grants to help us take care of these trees. We succeeded when the Friends of Huntley Meadows grant application to the Virginia Department of Forestry's Urban and Community Forestry program was approved, and the Group was awarded $3,000. Coupled with two private donations totaling $1500, we had enough to get the work done.

Collaboration 2: Using the services of the Fairfax County Urban Forestry Division to coordinate and supervise the project, we were able to select two commercial arborists in the area to do the work. The companies were Growing Tree Professional Tree Care, Inc of Ashburn, and Bartlett Tree Experts of Springfield. Two companies were chosen so that the work could be accomplished in one day, and to enhance the publicity opportunities of the project. Each company worked in one tree, and the work was completed in about six hours. Each company chose its best climbers to work in these trees because of their importance and as a sort of "reward" for good work. Throughout the day, the climbers exchanged shouts of encouragement, and kept up the chatter of professional kidding, turning the experience into great fun. Those on the ground watched enviously as the climbers swung through the trees, shouting the arborist's warning, "HEADACHE!" as they dropped limbs cut from the trees. Growing Earth brought its chipper machine, and all helped drag the debris to be turned into fragrant wood chips. We left the chips with the adjacent Frog Pond Early Learning Center as thanks for allowing the use of their property for access to the trees.

Division of Urban Forestry professionals and representative of the companies inspected both live and dead branches for signs of disease and infestation, and the general health of both trees. Both passed with flying colors, and all were impressed with the vigor of new growth these 200 year old giants produced. Opinions were fairly universal: barring any accidents, these trees have at least another 100 years in them, if not more.

When it was done, and all the equipment had been packed a way, pictures had been taken, handshakes all around, and the trucks pulled away, I stood for a while, alone with trees. Now, I'm a fairly practical man, and I don't buy into humanizing inanimate objects, but I'm fairly certain that as I started to walk away, it sounded as if the light breeze passing through the freshly trimmed branches seemed to whisper, ever so faintly, "thank you".

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