Provo evaluating urban forest after cutting down rotting, 100-year-old tree

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Provo city removed the popular cottonwood tree at Bicentennial Park after learning that it was rotting. (Photo courtesy Provo city)

Provo city removed the popular cottonwood tree at Bicentennial Park after learning that it was rotting. (Photo courtesy Provo city)

This week Provo had to cut down a large, beloved tree at Bicentennial Park. The tree, which started as two trees that grew together, was rotting from the inside, was in a busy area of the park and was in danger of falling down. Now the city’s looking at all its trees — an urban forest — to figure out what’s safe, what needs to be removed and what can be added.

Provo deputy mayor Corey Norman said they city’s evaluating its trees, looking at how it can responsibly maintain a healthy urban forest program. The problem right now is there are quite a few unhealthy trees or trees planted in places where they never should have been. One example is on Center Street, where some trees are growing into the road.

“There is not an easy answer,” he said. … We all love the trees. We care about the urban forest. The last thing we want to do is cut down trees that are big and beautiful.”

But there are safety issues, and “unfortunately, trees don’t last forever,” Norman said.

The cottonwood tree at Bicentennial Park, which was near the pond, had been showing signs of decay for some time, Mayor John Curtis wrote on his blog. Four certified arborists evaluated it and rated it on a hazard scale of 1 to 12 as a 10.

“The roots were so rotten that the stench was atrocious. At the end of the day we did the right thing. The potential for danger was increasing.” —Corey Norman, Provo deputy mayor

Norman said the tree’s trunk was so hollow that he — he’s 6 feet 1 inches tall — could fit inside it. Also, once the tree was cut down and crews were pulling it out, they discovered the the roots were rotting as well.

“The roots were so rotten that the stench was atrocious,” he said. “At the end of the day we did the right thing. The potential for danger was increasing.”

Comments on Facebook and Curtis’s blog both defend the city’s actions and ask why Provo couldn’t let the 100-year-old tree just be.

Norman said some wanted to know why the city couldn’t just put a fence around it to keep the tree, and keep people safe. The problem was that the tree was in a very popular location, and the city couldn’t trust that everyone would stay outside a fence. Plus, it was only a matter of time before something happened to make part — or all — of the tree fall down.

Now that the tree is gone, the city plans to plant more trees in the area, he said. Staff is redesigning the area and will plant large, healthy trees to provide shade and make the area aesthetically pleasing.

The city also will put the old cottonwood tree — as much as it can — to good use. Healthy parts of the wood will be turned over to bowl turners to make bowls from the old tree, Norman said. Some of the best bowl turners in the nation live in the area. Other parts of the healthy wood will be turned into mulch, that will be used in Bicentennial and other city parks.

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Amie Rose has more than 14 years of experience writing and editing at newspapers in Utah and New Mexico. She graduated from BYU with a degree in journalism. She lives in Utah Valley with her husband, toddler and crazy dog.

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