The American elm in front of Philomath Community Library was among five chosen to become Heritage Trees. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

The first five trees to be recommended for entry into the city’s new Heritage Tree Program received unanimous approval Monday night from the Philomath City Council.

The American elm located along Applegate Street in front of the library, the giant sequoia that serves as the community’s Christmas tree in front of the Philomath Museum, a black cottonwood found at the south end of Ninth Street at the Marys River and a white oak and deodar cedar located on private residences make up the first group to receive the designation.

Lights go up a few years ago on the giant sequoia in front of the museum. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The tree at the library, which is located just behind a bus shelter on Applegate, was nominated by former city councilor Catherine Biscoe. The large elm was preserved during the library construction project in the early 1990s — an effort that featured significant contributions from volunteers.

Biscoe said a Heritage Tree designation would be appropriate “as it preserves and memorializes extraordinary efforts by the community to establish the community resources of the library, the police department and City Hall.”

The giant sequoia located in front of Philomath’s most recognizable historic building on Main Street was planted in 2008 to become the permanent community Christmas tree. The tree was nominated by local resident Jackie McDougall Weiner, who provided in submitted materials various details on the species.

“The tree on the grounds of the Philomath Museum has the potential to be a great learning tool for our community,” she wrote, suggesting that it be called Heritage Learning Tree. “It will also last for a very long, long, long time. … What a legacy.”

One of the trees on a private residence is an Oregon white oak and can be found at 24930 Grange Hall Road.

A very old tree on Grange Hall Road was among those recognized in the Heritage Tree Program. (Photo provided by City of Philomath via nomination documents)

“On the old homestead of Rev. Bennett, one of the founders of Philomath College, stands an Oregon white oak that had been standing there centuries before his arrival,” Giana Bernardini wrote in her nomination. “… A limb broke off the tree and Mike Newton, professor of forestry at OSU, counted the rings. There were over 500 rings on the branch alone.”

Bernardini mentioned an interesting incident that occurred years ago.

“Some years before the current owner (Carolyn Choquette) arrived, a few folks attempted to trim some branches with a brand new chainsaw,” Bernardini wrote. “The saw was accidentally dropped into the hollow trunk and all attempts to retrieve it were unsuccessful. The new chainsaw remains inside the tree today.”

Another tree on private property included in the list is a deodar cedar located on the corner of South 15th and Applegate streets. Property owner Rachel Bruce nominated the tree, which is estimated to be around 85 years of age.

This deodar cedar is located on the corner of South 15th and Applegate. (Photo provided by City of Philomath via nomination documents)

“We were told that it was planted the same year our home was built in 1939,” Bruce said. “The tree shades the majority of our front yard and house. The limbs grew in an odd, but striking shape, making them perfect for climbing. People stop on a regular basis to admire our gorgeous tree.”

The other tree included in the inaugural group of Heritage Tree honorees is a black cottonwood located on the south end of Ninth Street adjacent to the Marys River. Nominated by Michael Brawner, the tree sits on city-owned property and is estimated to be around 160 years old.

“Based on the estimated age, this tree was already decades old when Philomath was incorporated — one of a diminishingly few individuals to have witnessed the history of our town from pioneer settlement to the present,” Brawner wrote, who included various details about the species.

The old tree measures 78 inches in diameter. Brawner said he could find only two other documented black cottonwoods to be bigger than the Philomath tree — one of those designated as a Heritage Tree in Corvallis and the other located in Willamette Mission Park in Salem.

This black cottonwood is one of the largest of its kind in the region. (Photo provided by City of Philomath via nomination documents)

The Heritage Tree Program was established last year to recognize trees of significance in the community. According to the program’s digital presence on the city’s website, “These are trees that tell a story, confound and astound, educate locals and visitors about significant people or events from the past, have survived natural disasters and stand as silent sentries to the passage of time.”

A prospective Heritage Tree must meet one or more four criteria:

• Specimen — Exceptional size, form, beauty, rarity or horticultural value.

• Historic — Recognized by virtue of age, or associated with noted person or historical event.

• Landmark — Recognizable landmark in the community.

• Collection — Notable grove, avenue or planting.

“We had six nominations — five of them passed,” Public Works Director Kevin Fear told the City Council Monday night. “The sixth was the sequoia grove at Marys River Park and the committee felt that was not really a heritage grouping — at least at this time — and it does have a lot of signage with it already. That one was put on the back burner and these other five have been cleared … for approval to be officially deemed Heritage Trees.”

The Heritage Tree designation does not protect it from possible future removal. The city states that tree owners maintain rights of removal per city code but adds, “However, in recognition of their unique status and value to the community, property owners are strongly encouraged to inform the tree board of their intention to remove a Heritage Tree prior to taking action.”

For trees on city land, the public works director would review the need for removal with the Tree Advisory Board prior to taking action. The tree board operates as part of the Public Works Committee.

According to the city’s website, the trees will be identified with markers and owners will receive a certificate of recognition.

Brad Fuqua

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.