Magazine article American Forests

News from the World of Trees

Magazine article American Forests

News from the World of Trees

Article excerpt


First Lady Pat Nixon's southern magnolia and a Liberty Tree tulip poplar will he spared the ax when construction begins next year on a new visitors' center at the U.S. Capitol. But five other memorial trees, and five dozen with less impressive lineages, will take the fall for progress.

In all, 68 trees on the East Lawn of the Capitol will be removed and 17 trees transplanted to make way for the three-story $265 million project. The five memorial trees to be cut down were planted in honor of people like former Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson, the father of Earth Day, whose sugar maple was planted in 1973. Another sugar maple, planted in 1980 for former Rep. Harley O. Staggers, will also go.

This summer, landscapers will feed and root-prune the 17 trees--including eight memorials, such as the former First Lady's magnolia and the 23-year-old tulip poplar--to prepare for the move. AMERICAN FORESTS has offered to help transplant the old trees, plant new ones, and propagate memorial trees that can't be spared.

Some of those on the chopping block, including the five memorial trees, suffer from dieback and other diseases. But some are simply in the way. And the plan to remove healthy, mature trees has provoked an outcry from tree lovers, including Capitol landscape architect Matthew Evans, who reportedly persuaded the powers that be to amend their plans in order to spare a 50-year-old American elm.

"I would have chained myself to that elm" to save it, he told The Wall Street Journal this spring. (In 1875 Pennsylvania Senator Simon Cameron also saved an elm slated for removal with his impassioned speech to colleagues. It's still standing and not threatened.)

"This is the first major addition to the Capitol in 140 years and you've got to do it right," says Bruce Milhans, a spokesman for the architect of the Capitol. "This has been very carefully designed to minimize the impact on the grounds, but it's impossible to do with no impact." After all, there are 346 trees on the East Lawn alone.

The idea of a visitors' center at the Capitol has been bandied about for 30 years, but it finally gained momentum in the late 1990s, Milhans says. Lawmakers were concerned about security and about the comfort of their constituents--who now spend upwards of three hours waiting in line in a parking lot just to get a glimpse inside.

A bipartisan congressional commission approved the current plan for the visitors' center, which will accommodate about 4,000 tourists every hour, providing them with restrooms, cafeterias, and theaters for viewing educational videos. And all of that is below ground.

The three-story project "was placed underground to preserve and restore the aesthetics of the East Grounds and the Olmsted vision of the East Grounds," Milhans says, referring to the design laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted, the Capitol's landscape architect in the late 1800s.

Among the 68 trees to be cut are American elms, sycamores, tulip poplars, a couple of Yoshino cherries, a dogwood, and one cucumber magnolia. Some, including the tulip poplars, are 50 feet tall and a century old. The tulip poplars originally formed a double allee leading up to the Capitol, but many have died of old age. A new tulip poplar allee is planned.

Eighty new trees will be planted, Kousa dogwood, Eastern redbud, downy serviceberry, sourwood, Yoshino cherry, and tulip poplar among them. Many will be 15 to 20 feet tall and the poplars will have an 8-inch caliper. …

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