Celebrating Port Townsend’s trees

The Monterey Cypress tree in its former glory, before a portion of it fell last week. The tree was over 150 years old, 60 feet tall and more than 33 feet around. 

A FALLEN LEGEND

While the city gears up to celebrate its legendary trees and plant new ones on the Autumnal Arbor Day on Oct. 21, Port Townsend lost a legendary 150-year old Monterey Cypress tree, part of which collapsed onto cars in uptown, at the Blue Gull Inn near the corner of Clay and Harrison on Oct. 5.

The tree was 60 feet tall and more than 33 feet around. According to the tree’s owner, John Eissinger, the tree was the largest recorded Monterey Cypress in Washington state, and a huge part of the community in Port Townsend.

“It’s always been a really special tree for us,” Eissinger said. “A family of raccoons would nest up there every year. There were squirrels and eagles that would make it their home.” 

A third of the tree collapsed, breaking the windshields of three cars. Nobody was injured, but Eissinger said he plans to remove the rest of the tree to prevent any possible injury.

“The tree is huge and it’s hanging over houses,” Eissinger said. “I’ll sleep better knowing it’s not going to fall and hurt anyone.”

Since its collapse, community members have been leaving flowers and signs at what is left of its trunk to commemorate the tree’s long life. 

Eissinger hopes to create a bench or a totem pole out of the stump of the tree, once the rest has been removed. 

“It’s definitely a big part of the community,” he said. “It’s hard for us to say we’re going to take it down.” 

 

PROTECTING SPECIAL TREES

The Parks and Recreation and Tree Advisory Board hopes to nominate more of Port Townsend’s beloved trees for landmark status.

The board is in the process of nominating the willow tree in Gateway Park. This nomination comes just a few months after the board’s first-ever landmark tree nomination: a California oak on the corner of Pierce and Lawrence streets. 

Legislation for nominating trees to landmark status has been part of Port Townsend city code since 2004, when Port Townsend became the first city in Washington with local authority over forest practices after the Department of Natural Resources approved the city’s tree conservation ordinance. 

Within the ordinance, which was enacted in part to prevent speculative clearcutting, was legislation on nominating landmark trees. It stated that “landmark tree preservation designation recognizes the significance of certain special trees to the citizens of Port Townsend,” and that “a tree on private or public property may be protected throughout its useful life because of its contribution to the environment and city character.”

According to the ordinance, trees on private property can be nominated by the owner of the property, while trees on public property can be nominated by anyone. 

But since the ordinance was enacted by the Parks and Recreation and Tree Advisory Board, no trees had been nominated – until Port Townsend resident Beth Lorber contacted the board about nominating her California oak. 

“I owned the property at 1520 Lawrence St., where there is an oak tree that was planted by the former owner and it’s a really magnificent tree,” Lorber said. “I was selling the house and the property and I wanted to make sure nobody was going to cut it down.”

According to Lorber, the Parks and Recreation and Tree Advisory Board were happy to help her nominate her tree . 

Landmark status adds protections to the tree, so that any work done, such as cutting and trimming, would need city approval first. 

According to Debbie Jahnke, who is on the Parks and Recreation and Tree Advisory Board, the oak was “a gorgeous first tree” for the board to nominate. She hopes that now that they have nominated one tree, and another is in the works, more people will nominate private and public trees. 

“It doesn’t have to be the biggest tree or the only one of its species, it just has to be a landmark, it has to be something people see,” Jahnke said. “It adds recognition to the tree and protection.”

For Lorber, nominating her tree was a way to prevent it from being cut down by future owners of the property. While she still lives in Port Townsend, Lorber has moved to a new address and she wanted to continue to see the tree stand tall in the community. 

“It’s an old tree; it’s very majestic. And I’m a self-described tree-hugger,” Lorber said. “It breaks my heart when really old trees that are healthy are cut down.”

Those with a tree on their property they want to nominate or for those who want to nominate a tree on public property, can contact Alex Wisniewski, a staff member of the Parks and Recreation and Tree Advisory Board. 

To qualify as a possible landmark tree, the tree must meet just one of five criteria, including having a significance associated with a historical person, place or event; attaining a significant size in height, caliper, or canopy spread for its age and species; having a unique or uncommon aesthetic quality for its species; being prominently visible to the public, along a major road or near a public place; or possessing rare horticultural value.

Jahnke hopes that the nomination of Lorber’s oak and the nomination draft of the willow at Gateway Park will “break the dam” for future tree nominations.

“Trees are really important for buffering climate change; they fix carbon,” Jahnke said. “Planting a tree is the one thing that an individual can do for the future.”

 

ARBOR DAY EVENTS

While most Arbor Day events across the country are held in April, the city decided that because of the climate in Washington state, Arbor Day tree planting would be most beneficial in the autumn. 

While Gov. Jay Inslee declared the month of October to be Urban and Community Forestry Month, Port Townsend Mayor Deborah Stinson signed a proclamation Oct. 1 which called for Oct. 21 to be Arbor Day in the city of Port Townsend. To recognize this day, Admiralty Audubon will lead the planting of Douglas fir, shore pine and other native tree species in Kah Tai Lagoon Nature Park from 9 a.m. to noon on Oct. 21. 

The Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department invites any members of the public to participate in the tree planting as one of the simplest steps to prevent climate change.

“Trees provide a substantial and long-lived sink for anthropogenic carbon. When we celebrate Arbor Day, we celebrate the importance of trees, which produce oxygen, sequester carbon dioxide, provide shade and wildlife habitat,” the press release stated.

(3) comments

Tom Camfield

I've lived here almost 90 years and you wouldn't believe the size of some of the trees I've seen callously removed merely to give some newcomer home-builder an improved view of one sort or another. Never mind how many hundreds of years it would take to replace such a tree.

Debbie Jahnke

One correction - Alex Wisniewski is Director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services for the City of Port Townsend. Thanks for a great article about our city's trees.

Joyce Blankenship

Now THAT was an interesting write-up!

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