Saws come for Esther Short Park's sweetgums

September storm damaged trees near end of their natural lifespan

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

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photoA late-September storm severely damaged three sweetgum trees in Esther Short Park. The trees will be cut down late next week.

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photoOne of the three Esther Short Park sweetgum trees damaged by a late-September windstorm also stands too close to the pavilion. All three will be removed next week.

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The debris is long gone from the violent rain and windstorm that smacked into Clark County in late September, but for the area's sweetgum trees, the ordeal is far from over.

The storm, which caused more than 2.5 inches of rain on Sept. 28 and 29, knocked huge branches off sweetgum trees across the county, including three in Esther Short Park.

Many types of trees can survive that sort of battering, but the park's historic sweetgums haven't properly recovered — so they're getting the axe late next week and will be replaced sometime in February.

"It was really strange, that storm," said Charles Ray, urban forester with Vancouver Public Works. "All the damage was related to sweetgums. They're really brittle."

The three Esther Short Park trees were planted before the 1960s and are nearing the end of their 60-year lifespan, Ray said.

Sweetgum trees become brittle as they age and break more easily in storms.

"It wasn't just Esther Short Park; it was all over," Ray said. "Clark Public Utilities, they told me a majority of their calls from that storm were also sweetgum-related."

The utility's contractors have removed several sweetgum trees along Mill Plain Boulevard near Ohio Drive and Morrison Avenue.

Brian Potter, division manager for Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation, said other parks in the county network of about 200 didn't suffer as much damage from the storm and don't have as many sweetgums.

"As far as park impact it really wasn't that extensive," Potter said. "A major cleanup effort, certainly, but it was mainly these trees in Esther Short Park for us."

The top blew off of one of the sweetgums, another lost major limbs, and the third also suffered damage and also stands too close to the park's pavilion, Ray said.

And the sweetgum trees aren't the only ones slated for the chainsaw.

Most of the park's mature deciduous trees were planted in the early 1900s, and the species are also nearing the end of their 60-to-100-year lifespan.

"Unfortunately Ether Short Park's trees are aging; the deciduous trees, they tend to be shorter-lived," Ray said. "So we'd also like to replace the silver maples and Norway maples that are there now."

The longer process of switching out trees will happen over the next few years, and the fir trees — including the one that will be dressed up for the Festival of Trees tree lighting ceremony on Nov. 29 — are just fine, Ray added.

Parks and Recreation is still deciding which trees it will use to replace the sweetgums. The front-runners are slower-growing trees like oaks, red maples and sugar maples, Ray said.

"They're just as colorful," Ray said. "Esther Short Park is such an important place for the city, so we want to look at longer-lived, really grand trees that will last."