Emerald ash borer taking toll on county, emotions

It has to go. I know it does but I’m not one bit happy about it. The tree hugger inside me hates to give up on the tree in our front yard along the road.

The leaves were sparse last summer, yet I cheered the tree on. After all, it was the protector of our mailbox and the sentinel that guarded the end of our lane. I’d stood in the shade under this tree with our children waiting for the bus many times. It couldn’t die.

As last summer progressed little limbs began to fall off the tree, then bigger ones. This winter when I saw the tell tale curly trails of the emerald ash borer under the bark that fell off the trunk, I knew the vicious attack of the shiny green pest was winning.

The merciless onslaught of the emerald ash borer is taking its toll on Clark County. Since it was first sighted in Michigan in 2002, the invasive insect from China and Japan has spread to much of Ohio. Nowhere is its destruction more evident than Raynor Park in Park Layne.

Bethel Twp. Trustee Nancy Brown knows all about the destructive capabilities of the emerald ash borer. She and her husband lost nearly 100 trees in their back yard very quickly. They had a small woods behind their house and now it’s an extension of the yard.

The ash borer is aggressive and moves quickly. Its destruction is hidden at first by the bark of the tree. Sometimes the tree looks great on the outside but it is hollow and rotten inside. Trees under attack of the ash borer lose leaves, then branches quickly. The Browns had to have all their ash trees cut down to avoid having any of their grandchildren injured by a fallen limb or tree.

This is not a new problem. In our modern world of younger trees and landscaping we rarely hear of anyone injured by a falling tree or limb, unless it is during a storm. However when I look at Ohio newspapers more than 200 years old, I’ve found numerous references to people being killed or hurt by falling trees and branches without any warning.

Back then, trees were bigger and older. To clear fields some farmers killed the larger trees by stripping off the bark. The tree would lose its leaves and soon it would begin to drop limbs. Meanwhile the farmer could plant crops between the leafless trees. Eventually the tree would be rotten enough to pull it down, but during the branch dropping time it became very scary to do anything under that tree.

Well, the emerald ash borer is making some of our modern trees scary.

Bethel Twp. trustees had to make the difficult decision to cut down the dying ash trees in Raynor Park. It was made much worse by the fact that all the trees in Raynor were ash trees. All of them.

I asked why all the trees were ash and learned that most predate the formation of the park. The park was organized in a low wet area that already had ash trees. It was named after a Clark County Deputy Gregory Raynor, who was killed while responding to a call in Park Layne.

For decades the natural ash trees in the park worked just fine. Then Ohio was invaded by the emerald ash borer. Once the ash borer hit, the trees had the potential of quickly becoming limb-dropping nightmares. Something had to be done.

Cutting down trees is expensive and Bethel Twp. did not have the budget to take care of a situation of this size at Raynor Park. A company offered to cut the trees for free if it could keep the good trunks of the trees. This process left the township with more than 100 stumps surrounded by broken limbs. The public is asked to stay out of the areas affected until the debris is cleared.

Although it was suggested that trustees allow the public to retrieve firewood from the trimmings, the trustees voted two (Dave Phares and Don Minton) to one (Brown) to not allow the cutting of firewood because of insurance issues.

According to Brown the mess should be cleaned up soon, in around two weeks, by the township employees and Clark County PRIDE inmate workers. Stumps will be leveled on the top and left for the time being.

That will leave residents with acres of treeless park next to the playground and sports fields. Many have voiced their displeasure, but viewing a power point presentation that Brown prepared on the facts of the issue convinced many that the tree cutting was unavoidable. Obviously, umbrellas and sunscreen will be more important than usual this year.

Trustees are entertaining a variety of plans for replacing the trees. Because the land is low and moist, only a few kinds of trees will thrive. Trustees are open to serious suggestions. My favorite solution is a community tree planting and dedication project.

Last year, Jim Campbell, outgoing Director of the Clark County Park District, told me they lost approximately 700 ash trees at George Rogers Clark Park alone. Since then there has been some replanting of other kinds of trees.

Kristy Thome, Enon’s administrative assistant, told me that the village has been cutting down the ash trees gradually. However, Enon did not have any great concentration of them in one place.

Most cemeteries and towns in our area have a good variety of trees, so the culling out of any infested ash does not make such a dramatic impact as at Raynor Park. There appear to be quite a few ash trees in fence rows, but they will fall or be cut soon by property owners. I’ve noticed that some farmers took the opportunity to clear out the entire fence row and make it part of the fields.

It makes me sick to see a treeless park, but I agree with the Bethel Twp. trustees. Having a person injured by falling limbs or trees is not an option. That sort of news belongs in our past and not our future.

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