SRJC to remove historic 200-year-old oak tree for safety reasons

Between the presidencies of George Washington and John Adams, an acorn grew on land that is now the Santa Rosa Junior College football field.

Two centuries later, the 45-foot Valley Oak will meet its demise at the hands of chainsaws and progress.

It appears the tree, which sits 3ft beyond the north end area and in the surrounding oval of the race track, is nearing the end of its life and at risk of ‘catastrophic failure’ over the next 10 years.

That’s according to an arborist’s report, said university spokeswoman Erin Bricker.

The college replaces the football field and track, which requires soil excavation and compaction of new subsoil over the entire field, including the area around the tree. The $4.5 million project is expected to be completed by November 1. Baseball, softball and soccer fields are also being renovated and reconfigured.

School officials had hoped to save the tree, which was carefully avoided when the Bear Cubs field and track were installed years ago.

But when planning the renovation, officials assessed the health of the tree and found that it was unlikely to survive for many more years and could be dangerous in the meantime.

“The report came back and said that as a result of all the work done in the field, ‘the tree would likely fail catastrophically within 10 years, and it could be sooner,'” Bricker said. a report like this is a safety hazard.We must first consider before anything else the safety of our students or any other participants walking under the tree.

“As a result, we have decided to remove the tree.”

The valley oak, the tallest species of oak found in California, can grow over 100 feet tall and live 300 years.

Oak and other native flora have been a symbol of SRJC from the beginning. The school was established in 1918 with classes at Santa Rosa High School.

Several years later, the board began considering a plot of land just north of the high school that could be the perfect home for the expanding college.

Renowned horticulturist Luther Burbank had long hoped the 40-acre site would be turned into a park, but funds could never be raised for the project, according to the college. Rights to the property were secured in 1930, and construction of Pioneer Hall began in October.

“The valley’s old native oaks are the honored monarchs of our landscape, which is also home to many other native plants,” boasts the SRJC.

Some time later, the football field and track were built, carefully avoiding several large oak trees between the classrooms and sports fields.

During construction, two large oak trees were left – one in the end zone and another further north inside the northeast curve of the track.

In 1977, graphic designer Doug Offenbacher designed SRJC’s official logo with oak leaves and acorns, furthering the species’ heritage in school lore.

Students live their school life surrounded by trees, more than 1,400 trees of 400 species on the main campus grounds alone, according to a school inventory.

Few seemed to know the fate of the soccer field tree.

“Huh, I didn’t even realize it was in midfield,” said Marco Escobar, who was walking across campus last week. “I guess if they redo the pitch, it has to go.”

Another student, Jennifer Mattos, said she found it odd that the tree was left inside the track when it was built.

“You wonder if anyone’s ever run into it or something,” she said.

Apparently not.

Football coach Lenny Wagner, with the SRJC since 2000, said opposing players often walk out onto the field and look at the tree, but none hit it while running after a pass.

‘It’s quite funny. All of a sudden they notice there’s a tree there, and you see them looking at the branches and saying, “What’s that? “, he said.

“There were only 3 feet outside the back of the end zone. The branches actually hung down to the 10-yard line, but were high enough that no bullets hit them and no one bumped into them.

A Butte College player once threw a ball at the tree after a touchdown — and hit it, Wagner said.

The school placed a large blue cushion around the gnarled tree trunk in case someone ran into it.

“It’s such a shame that we lost him,” he said. “It’s such a beautiful monument.”

He said players leaving for school often ask years later if the tree is still there.

“Until now, we’ve always been able to say yes,” Wagner said.

This isn’t the first tree on campus to fall for safety reasons.

In 2014, after two large trees, weakened by a root fungus, toppled over in storms, school administrators decided to remove four more trees for safety reasons.

Bricker said a second oak tree on the grounds will remain, but several other campus trees will be removed as part of the overall athletics renovation project. Authorities plan to plant about 60 new trees as part of the project.

“They really tie into our identity as a college,” she said. “It’s a sad moment, but we want to celebrate his impact on the community.”

To mark the tree’s history, school officials plan to hold a Native American ceremony to honor its long life.

The wood will be used to make a teddy bear statue that will greet football fans, and Bricker said it could also be made into benches or campus bowls, which could be used to raise money for the football program .

You can contact editor Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or [email protected] On Twitter @loriacarter.