From Cherry Days and Pickin' in the Park to the BMW Motorcycle Rally and Friday night football, Paonia Town Park is a hub of activity.
But it's the trees that make Town Park so special. Catalpa, honey locust, a variety of maples and two towering blue spruce trees named Katherine and Gertrude are among the many species of tree found in the park. But trees can grow old and unstable, and can require a lot of maintenance.
Like their wild relatives, urban forests also have great value. To protect its investment in its trees, the Town of Paonia recently contracted with the Colorado State Forest Service to provide a community assessment of all the trees in the park.
"The town wanted to do its due diligence and understand if the trees are healthy," said Kamie Long, district forester with the Grand Junction District of the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS).
Long is in charge of inventorying the trees. She compares the process to a grocery store. The owner regularly takes stock to ensure that the products he carries are what people need, and that everything is fresh. The CSFS ensures that trees are suited for the climate and don't have any diseases or age issues.
"We are stewards of the land," said Long. "Basically, that's what we do."
Between the park, the Dan Lawrence football field, the Ellen Hansen Smith Teen Center and the skate park, CSFS inventoried 112 trees. The assessment begins with an aerial photo shoot and noting the location of each tree, its species, and the diameter of each trunk, said Long. That helps determine areas of concern, such as whether trees need pruning or have branches growing too close to light poles.
Long said she and a state forester went into the park to look for damage. Trees measuring over 20 inches in diameter require an individual tree assessment. Each is given either a "low," "moderate," or "high" risk rating. An arborist is then brought in to assess each tree ranked in the "moderate" or "high" range. The arborist climbs up into the trees (Long said she doesn't climb trees) to take a closer look and determine if they pose any risk to the public. If so, the CSFS will recommend a plan of action.
The trunks of each of the larger trees are struck with a large rubber mallet. "It's like the doctor checking a patient's reflexes," said Long. A firm, solid sound means the tree is sound. "But if the trunk is hollow, it will sound more like a drum."
Of particular concern are several very large and aging silver maples, which can become unstable over time, said Long. Fortunately, she said, Paonia's silver maples are in very good shape for their age and size, mainly because the town has taken care of them and recently had them pruned.
The inventory was completed before the leaves began to change. Since yellow leaves in summer can indicate problems, the best time to assess trees is when the leaves are still green, said Long.
This is one of three community assessments Long is involved with this year. She also surveyed the city of Aspen and the town of Palisade. The data will be included in a report, which the community can use as it sees fit.
In 2018 the CSFS will assess the trees on Third Street in anticipation of a repaving project. "When Paonia goes to pave the street it could have an impact on the trees," said Long.
Long said she and her co-workers are very impressed with the overall care the trees, and especially the silver maples, have received. They also appreciate that the town is taking the initiative to understand its trees. "It shows they care, and I'm very happy about that."
(In 2014 the CSFS released its "Report on the Health of Colorado's Forests." A copy is available for download at csfs.colostate.edu.)