ROCKINGHAM — The larger of the two willow oak trees on Harrington Square will be cut down in July on the recommendation of an arborist and will coincide with the city’s planned renovation of the fountain, brickwork and landscaping on the Square.
Garry Veach, a certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture, said the tree on the Southwest corner of the square (closest to the clock tower) has been in a “state of decline” — meaning it’s beyond saving — for about 25 years, and is no longer worth the cost of maintenance. Veach added that the tree has required annual checkups for the last five years to remove deadwood and mistletoe, as well as judicial pruning.
“We’ve done everything that was prudent up to this point to invest in the tree’s longevity but there comes a point where you know you’re spending too much money and you’re allowing a hazard to be there,” said Veach, who owns Veach Tree Service, Inc.
Veach made the recommendation to City Manager Monty Crump earlier this spring after noting “large pieces of wood” that are becoming hazardous.
The other trees, a younger willow oak and two crepe myrtles, will stay. The decision to cut down the tree came too late in the spring to guarantee that a replacement tree would survive, according to Veach, so the replanting will take place in the fall or winter.
The replacement tree will be a 10-inch caliper willow oak and the replanting will cost $5,500, according to Crump. He added that the cost of removing the tree “is not nailed down” at this point.
Work on the other renovations will begin July 9. The city has budgeted $135,000 to replace the fountain which had severe leaking issues despite numerous repairs and hasn’t been used since 2016, but funds for the other aspects of the project will come from normal appropriations, according to Crump.
“It’s not going to be a huge makeover but it’ll be different than what’s there,” Crump said. “It will upgrade the looks without taking away the character of what we’re used to there.”
Construction will take about two months. The Saturday Farmer’s Market will relocate from the Square to the covered space in front of the Department of Social Services starting July 14, according to Susan Kelly, director of the Cooperative Extension office in Rockingham which supports the market.
Bids for the fountain project closed in March. The new fountain will have a pre-cast decorative bowl with a raised sphere in the middle where the water will emanate, according to the plans for project. The new fountain was part of the “Shaping Our Future: 2023” 10-year plan drafted in 2013.
Council member Anne Edwards, who served on the steering committee for the 10-year plan, said in an interview in March that replacing the fountain is being done, in part, to compliment the coming Richmond Community College satellite campus.
“We wanted to make it a little more in conjunction with what the college would look like,” Edwards said.
Crump said the project may include new benches depending on whether the the current ones “fit with the new look of the square.”
‘Tree-huggers in disguise’
Neal Cadieu, secretary for the Richmond County Historical Society, estimated that the tree to be cut down is at least 100 years old, based on old photos of the Square dating back to the 1920s which show it as an already matured tree. The other willow oak had to be replaced after a May 1995 thunderstorm which a 911 spokesperson at the time estimated had 100 mph winds, according to Mayor Pro Tem and Historical Society board member John Hutchinson.
Veach said urban trees like this one struggle because their roots are often underneath asphalt which starves the soil of oxygen and other nutrients.
“We’re in the business of sustaining historical trees,” Veach said, adding that willow oaks are the predominant tree along Fayetteville Road. “You don’t want to see the ‘old guys’ leave here … we’re tree-huggers in disguise.”
Hutchinson said the renovation of the Square is a good opportunity to replace the tree.
“Those oaks have been there so long,” he said in a Facebook message. “They’re landmarks.”
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]