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RVR, Town opting for safer trees over cottonwoods

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Sometimes things don’t go exactly as hoped. When the River Valley Ranch (RVR) Master Association and the Executive Board began landscaping the new subdivision 25 years ago, they planted several dozen narrow-leaf cottonwood trees in Orchard Park.

Cottonwoods can be quite lovely and provide cooling shade. The tree doesn’t mind being flooded or surviving droughts, can live through harsh snowfalls and early frosts and does just fine in the blinding heat of summer. All of which makes it a true Colorado native.

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But, on the flip side, when RVR planted the narrow leaf cottonwoods, many people did not recognize how weak, unstable and short-lived the trees could become.

Multiple attempts to reach a staff or board spokesperson for RVR were not successful.

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Mike Callas, Town of Carbondale Arborist and Horticulturist since 2017, announced that town officials and RVR are working together right now as required by the town’s Tree Ordinance. The ordinance was updated and revised in 2015.

He noted, “The existing trees have not yet been removed, and RVR is being quite cooperative in developing the Tree Replacement Plan.” Although the town owns the property, RVR handles the park’s maintenance.

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If you haven’t been to Orchard Park recently, it’s worth a visit. Located on Crystal Bridge Drive, the one-acre site contains a playground and is considered a cultural and historical resource.

According to Callas, narrow-leaf cottonwoods have a short life span of 15 to 25 years but grow quickly. “The trees don’t have dense wood inside, and branches are subject to breaking whenever strong winds blow through the area,” he said. The trees considered for removal are showing rapid signs of deterioration.

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The Carbondale Tree Board provides for the protection of trees, to ensure proper planting and maintenance of trees in the public right-of-way and in town parks, and to provide for the removal of nuisance trees on public and private property. The board also develops a healthy urban forest and park system of diverse tree species to protect against potential pest and disease problems.

Town officials, including the Board of Trustees and the Tree Board, rank public safety as their top priority, Callas said. He continued, “We’re very concerned about the cottonwoods toppling over and hurting any passerby.”     

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However, narrow leaf cottonwoods can be beneficial. The United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service says the trees provide habitat, cover, and food for a diversity of wildlife including rabbits, deer, moose, quail and grouse. In addition, it is a one of the fastest growing ornamental trees in western US cities. These trees do well at high elevations and are helpful when landscaping on deer winter ranges. Deer will not damage them through overbrowsing.

The aggressively spreading root system of narrow-leaf cottonwoods help with soil stabilization in erosion control and stream bank reclamation projects. This same feature, however, may be a liability in urban areas where the roots may clog drains and sewers.

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Carbondale has a strong Tree Protection Standard. Trees in the public right-of-way- can’t be removed without prior approval. Any tree removed must be replaced with an appropriate tree at the discretion of the Public Works Director and the Tree Board.

The Tree Board lists trees on town property that meet the town’s requirements and those that are not recommended. The shorter list of “nuisance trees” includes aspen, silver maple, boxelder, Russian olive, Siberia elm and white or green ash. Some are those listed are subject to specific diseases, and other are too weak to stay safe at the end of their life span.

Residents and visitors may recognize several kinds of recommended trees: English oak, Gingko, Norway maple, Japanese tree lilac, and chokecherry (experts caution that this last species may attract bears).

Earth Day Network encourages global tree planting, as planting trees globally is one way to combat climate change. Trees also filter the air and help reverse the impacts of climate change. In just one year, a mature leafy tree produces as much oxygen as ten people inhale. If you plant any tree, the world will be better off.

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