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Tuesday, March 5, 2024
March 5, 2024

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Helping the Old Apple Tree grow

Workers give soil treatment to 184-year-old Vancouver survivor

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Lyle Feilmeir, left, and John Dale work Friday as part of a crew attempting to boost the health of the Northwest's oldest apple tree.
Lyle Feilmeir, left, and John Dale work Friday as part of a crew attempting to boost the health of the Northwest's oldest apple tree. Photo Gallery

A passerby who looked to be in her 50s, with plastic wrapped around her head to protect against the rain, was pushing a purple walker Friday morning. Alarmed, she stopped to ask a question.

“They’re not taking down the Old Apple Tree, are they?”

A nearby crew was working inside the fenced area surrounding the 184-year-old fruit tree.

“No, ma’am,” said Todd Miles, an archaeological technician with the National Park Service. “They’re pulling off the old soil and replacing it with fertilized soil that will hopefully help it flourish.”

“Good,” she said, adding — before walking off — that it’s frustrating to always see the old wiped away, replaced with something bigger and shinier.

The Old Apple Tree is neither the biggest tree in Clark County, nor is it shiny. But it’s a survivor, still standing inside its enclosure at Old Apple Tree Park near the waterfront.

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It was planted in 1826 by Hudson’s Bay Co. workers at Fort Vancouver — 11 years before Queen Victoria assumed the British throne —and is thought to be the oldest apple tree in the Northwest. It is also considered the matriarch of Washington’s apple industry, according to a city of Vancouver Web site.

For three hours Friday, a three-man crew toiled with shovels and a large blower to clear soil away from the venerable tree’s root ball. The treatment, called a crown root excavation, is designed to improve growing conditions for the tree, which looks something like Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree.”

‘Amazing’ year ahead

The tree is tilted to the left from the vantage point offered behind the plaque that identifies it as the area’s oldest apple tree. The trunk breaks into two thick arms about 5 feet off the ground.

“This year’s going to be amazing with how much grows, considering how much was lost,” said Lyle Feilmeier, of Collier Care Arbor, referring to the primary branch that broke off the tree last summer.

For reasons sentimental and historic, the three-man crew from Collier and Arborscape donated their services Friday to make sure the tree flourishes well into its long-under-way golden years.

Feilmeier said Collier adopted the tree after it was damaged in 1996. It’s Vancouver’s receiving tree.

“It’s our gift to the tree’s historic value,” he said.

More work ahead

The effort to maintain it is ongoing, continuing March 8 when the National Park Service and Collier will return, this time to perform a bridge graft — a process used to pump important nutrients into damaged trees.

“It’s great that they’re doing this for the Old Apple Tree,” Charles Ray, Vancouver’s urban forester, said of the pro bono work provided by the arborists.

Feilmeier spent a chunk of the three-hour work session using a diesel-powered hose to shake loose the soil covering the tree’s roots. Two men followed behind, shoveling soil out of the plot that houses the tree.

After about an hour, one of the men climbed in the back of a Collier truck and rained new soil down on the exposed roots.

“We put in about two yards of garden compost,” Feilmeier said. “We mixed it very thoroughly down about 12 inches into the root zone.”

Prior to Friday, the tree’s root system had never been revitalized, Feilmeier said.

“It’s getting a new chance at life with new vigor, which we have been increasing the last 10 years and will continue,” Feilmeier said.

Bob Albrecht: 360-735-4522; bob.albrecht@columbian.com.