300-year-old oak provides outdoor classroom in Oregon City
Gardiner Middle School's more than 300-year-old tree that the Oregon City School District recently saved from destruction is getting some additional love from students who advocated for its preservation.
Gardiner PE teacher Dara Kramer led a project in which students helped certified arborist Garrett Day on Oct. 29 perform a sonic tomography, which determined that most of the tree is composed of healthy, dense wood. By hammering on sensors connected to wires and other sensors all around the tree, Kramer's students saw the technology measuring how quickly sounds travel different parts of the trunk.
Kramer explained that the hammering sounds traveled faster through harder wood and slower through less dense wood, so all of the data points come together to create a "map" of the inside of the tree.
Once the tree was found to be healthy, Nick Bezzerides with Sense of Place Permaculture could reduce the size of some of its limbs to get the oak in better shape to withstand storms and preserve its health. Bezzerides is deeply discounting the cost of the work, a cost that students in partnership with the Oregon City Parks Foundation are working to cover.
OCPF committed $500 for the tomography and is helping students with additional fundraising using its bottle fund and a through call for donations.
"OCPF decided Oregon City has lost too many of these old trees, and this more than 300-year-old tree had to be saved," OCPF board president Roger Fowler-Thias said.
Oregon City resident Didi Dahlsrud, who recently won the statewide Heritage Tree Hero of the Year Award recognizing her dedication to preserving trees of historical significance, said the Gardiner students demonstrated their remarkable intelligence by putting their different educational skills into play with this program.
"I can't express how exciting this project is, and (it provides) really good awareness to how much one tree can make a difference," Dahlstrud said.
After receiving pressure to save the tree, in 2019, school district officials requested that the city grant a smaller setback for rebuilding the Gardiner's building, a project completed in time for this school year. District officials asked Gardiner neighbors be understanding of limited parking for the school, in part so the tree could be saved.
"The kids rallied up and saved that tree from being taken down to make room for a bus turnaround," Dahlstrud said.
Eden Rosensteel, a sstudent who participated in the project, said that the February 2021 ice storm led to the second battle to save the oak.
"After the ice melted and the broken limbs were removed, it was determined that the tree had survived," Rosensteel wrote for the school's newspaper, The Gardiner Gazette.
Health of the Gardiner oak remained in doubt, however, due to mushrooms growing around it and a hollowed-out portion of its trunk that houses a family of squirrels. But its tomography showed city officials who recently removed oaks at the municipal pool and police station that "not every mushroom should be a death warrant," Dahlstrud said. A hole in the tree was also a good sign, according to Dahlstrud.
"Critters living in the tree means it's approximately 300 years old, and these oaks can live to 1,000," she said. "Oaks are the most beneficial tree in Oregon, as they harbor hundreds of species of insects."
Once the tree's limbs are trimmed, arborists are recommending removal of the grass below the Gardiner oak, which may thrive with a natural mulch and the tree's own fallen leaves providing additional habitat.
"Their next step will be to plant natives under and around the tree and create a 'no spray zone' that does not allow herbicides or pesticides," Kramer said."Woodshop students will use oak from the limbs that broke off last year to create a plaque to teach about the tree and the natives planted around it."
Then students plan to apply for the oak's Oregon City heritage tree status, which will give additional protections in addition to citywide recognition.
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