Parks and Recreation might cut down two nearly 100-year-old healthy Douglas Firs in Lithia Park, but not if some Ashlanders have anything to say about it.
A group of concerned Ashland citizens held a press conference Monday at the Japanese Garden to talk about their desire to keep the two of 12 trees proposed for removal in a nearly century-old grove planted by the garden.
The media event preceded a Monday evening meeting of the Parks and Recreation Commission at which a decision on garden plans was up for discussion.
The two trees are what removal opponents call the “mom and pop” in a grove of 12 just outside of the Japanese-style garden in Lithia Park. The grove was planted by the Ashland Boy Scout troop in 1924, according to Bryan Holley, a former Tree Commission commissioner. The other 10 trees will remain.
Proposed removal of the trees is driven by the conclusion by the designer that they would hinder the $1.3 million remodel of the Japanese-style garden into an authentic Japanese garden, financed by a gift from an Ashland resident and his late wife’s family.
The eight or so protesters at Monday’s noon gathering agreed that they want to keep the trees alive because they are historic and healthy, and they want to find a compromise with APRC.
JoAnne Eggers, a former parks commissioner, said she’s watched the growth of these trees for 45 years.
“The trees are healthy, they’re growing, they’re beautiful and they’re thriving here because this is a good place for them,” Eggers said.
She said the trees are native to the area and deserve a place beside the Japanese Garden, but ultimately, she wants to find harmony within the community.
“These trees are a part of our native culture,” Eggers said. “I believe we can find a way to co-exist and harmonize between both cultures Right now, there’s quite a lot of discourse, but I’m looking for harmony.”
APRC has been working closely with Jeff Mangin, board member of the Ashland Parks Foundation, since last summer. He, along with the Marechal family of Normandy in France, donated $1.3 million to completely renovate the Japanese-style garden in honor of his late wife, Beatrice Marechal.
Mangin hired Toru Tanaka to design a truly authentic Japanese garden. A Japanese native, Tanaka was trained in Japan, has 35 years of experience and was the director of Portland’s Japanese Garden.
It was Tanaka’s recommendation that the two trees be removed because they would interfere with other parts of the garden.
At an on-site meeting last fall, he explained to park commissioners and the public the art and science behind designing an authentic Japanese Garden, and how the two trees would hinder the design.
Some of those reasons are:
The trees would cast excess amount of shade on a portion of the garden, which could damage other plantings;
The root structure would hinder proposed portions of the garden in that area such as a bamboo garden and a fence; and
Due to a tree protection zone, it would be nearly impossible to do much work within 30 feet of the base of the tree, APRC Director Michael Black said.
Mangin said if the trees come down, they plan to recycle them into the garden in the form of benches and fences.
One of the protesters, Julie Norman, said that a 100-year-old tree sequesters 13.9 tons of carbon by its 100th birthday.
“Our city is officially committed to reducing carbon pollution, and big conifers are the best for that, much more than small plants and bushes which have shorter lifespans,” Norman said. “We are endorsing long-term thinking, so all of life can adapt and thrive despite the changing climate.”
Holley said it would be different if the plan was unchangeable, but he said he sees no reason why the design can’t be altered slightly to compromise and keep the trees.
Director Black said he is recommending to the commission at Monday night’s meeting that they move forward with the proposal and respect the initial design. He said if the commission rejects the plan, there’s no guarantee that the grant for the remodel will remain as is. So, potentially there could be no new garden if the design is rejected.
“Nobody is denying that the trees are beautiful and healthy, but the best design, apparently, for the sake of the garden is to take them out,” Black said. “Our goal is to get a Japanese garden and I think I owe it to the designer to present it the way it was drawn.”
The parks commission is expected decide to accept or reject the initial design and proposal at Monday night’s meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at 1175 East Main St.