When one arrives on the campus of the Masonic Home for Children at Oxford the stately and majestic trees capture their immediate attention. The impact of the trees extends beyond their beauty and can be directly calculated to include storm water interception, energy savings, and atmospheric carbon dioxide reduction. The beautiful urban forest captures the imagination and has been included in several iconic representations including the acorn and heart shaped pins. Many wonderful memories are created under the oaks.
The reality of a mature and stately forest is that the trees are coming to the end of their cycle. Thus a plan needed to be developed and implemented to help manage the current forest, plant for reforestation, and develop an ongoing plan to ensure the viability of this important resource. In September of 2015, NCSU Graduate Student Travis Black committed to evaluating 232 trees on upper campus. Over the course of his graduate work, Mr. Black examined the spring and winter canopies, detailed the condition of each tree, recorded a plan for each tree, and developed a management plan extending thirty years to promote a healthy and vibrant forest for generations to enjoy. The 137 page plan is extensive, thoughtful, and insightful. Mr. Black presented the Management Plan to Alumni Paul Tausch, Violet Davenport, Tina Gilreath, and MHCO employees on May 18th.
Highlights of the plan include the value of the trees, risk and mitigation budgeting, pruning standards, pruning and removal recommendations, reforestation and planting plans, and goals and strategies for ongoing management. Mr. Black shared some important information and guidelines. The Oaks represent 63% of the forest, with 52% being Willow Oak. While impressive, the lack of diversity places the forest at significant risk. Many recall the epidemic of Dutch Elm Disease. A similar epidemic related to Oaks would be immediately devastating. Thus, the replanting plan encourages planting a diversity of other faster growing trees before Mr. Black suggests planting more Oaks. For each tree removed it is suggested the planting of 2-3 replacements.
Due to damage and age, 41 trees or 22% of the forest are identified for removal. Additionally, 171 or 75% of the trees are identified as either low or high priority pruning. Mr. Black has suggested a schedule of removal, pruning, and replanting over the course of 30 years recognizing the management of the forest is a long term commitment.
The Urban Forest Management Plan is expected to be a part of the on-going Annual and Long Range Planning process. As the reforestation plan develops, new trees will come from outside nurseries and eventually MHCO hopes to be able to harvest seeds and cuttings from current trees to help propagate the forest. Additionally in six years MHCO will celebrate its 150th anniversary. Seedlings and young trees will become an option for stakeholders to take home or plant on campus to help connect them with our forest and see the forest expand beyond this campus.
The dedicated, detailed, and crucial work conducted by Travis Black has helped insure the beauty, serenity, and safety of the campus for decades to come. Mr. Black’s historic work will be the foundation of a continued canopy and diversified forest for generations to enjoy. May our hearts continue to grow together under stately trees for the benefit of children forever. Thank You Travis!