Commentary: Trees need care at Felton Covered Bridge Park
by Bill Burton
Sep 15, 2011 | 5318 views | 0 0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Several weeks ago, a group of concerned citizens met at the Felton Historic Covered Bridge Park with renowned horticultural consultant Barrie Coate, who was hired in 1992 by Santa Cruz County to provide a report on the then-existing trees in the newly purchased park site in Felton.

His phone number was still valid, he was semi-retired, but still in business when I contacted him. We asked him to return to the park, now 19 years later, to check if there were any trees now dangerous to people and or potentially damaging to the covered bridge. We told him that we had no funds to hire him and that we had some tree contractors that were willing to volunteer a limited amount of their services, as we all cared for the safety of the people and the bridge. We needed to know what was needed to be done, and what to leave alone.

He said he, too, cared about safety and correct care for the trees, and would volunteer for a onetime visit. Friday, Aug. 19, was the day.

Those on hand were Judy Anderson, president of the Felton Business Association; John MacDonald, a Felton business owner; Felton Fire Chief Ron Rickabaugh and longtime caretaker of the covered bridge’s needs; Ann Burton, an editor and teacher; Karen Burman, from the Valley Women’s Club; Howard Burman, a writer and retired professor; Maureen McCarty, an analyst for Santa Cruz County Supervisor Mark Stone; and myself, a retired civil engineer and grant promoter.

After careful inspection, Mr. Coate made it clear that the trees were in need of considerable care, both for the health and safety of the trees as well as to open up the view of the magnificent bridge.

We were all aware that although the bridge had just received a $248,000 grant from the National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation Program, that those funds were restricted to be used for the structure of the bridge. The grant will not cover costs for needed tree work. It will be incumbent on the community to raise the money and marshal volunteers so this gem of a park can continue to be enjoyed by so many in our community.

Mr. Coate conducted an extensive analysis of the health and structure of the trees, identifying many that needed end-weight removal or judicial pruning to protect future park users and the bridge. There exists a history of trees within this floodplain — which has a high water table — of being blown over, root-ball and all, in high winds.

With the trees having grown considerably in the past 19 years, the need is even more urgent.

Mr. Coate has a systematic charting system of rating each tree as he looks at it, takes a picture of its structure, and records observations related to factors of the tree. His rating system is numbers 1 through 5 with 1 being the best and 5 the worst. There is also a general final judgment about the tree.

We followed Mr. Coate around with a large map, marking on it the location, number, name and other comments. He is most busy right now, but when he gets more time, he will submit a report. He gave constant lectures about each tree as he went from tree to tree, and we learned a great deal. One of the main things he expressed was the sensitivity of how the pruning should be done.

We are now planning on how to get most of this accomplished with the sensitivity and quality he suggested. It is going to take time and money, which we don’t have. Safety is our top concern.

Bill Burton is a retired civil engineer. He volunteered nearly three weeks of his time and services to research and help secure the above-mentioned grant.

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