John Rieping/The Madera Tribune
Stumps dot the grass of Courthouse Memorial Park after 24 Modesto ash trees were removed there over the past four weeks.
Today’s Old Timers Celebration in Courthouse Memorial Park will lack two dozen longtime participants. I.V. Tree Services has cut down 24 Modesto ash trees there over the past four weeks for Madera County.
“A few of the trees had fallen down last year during the windstorm we had, so they wanted to replace those trees as quickly as possible,” said Ignacio Magos, program assistant II for the county’s Grounds Maintenance Division.
Recent years of drought had weakened the ash trees, but their decline began long before now, thanks to unwise tree trimming that brought beetles and decay.
“They were trimmed flat and water set on them through the years, therefore attracting bugs,” said Parks and Grounds Supervisor Joe Hernandez of Madera County General Services. “Bugs bore in there. All these years the bugs (have) been eating on them and the water’s ... rotted them out. Little by little they were falling apart. So we decided to bring all the trees down before they fell and hurt somebody.”
That doesn’t mean the newly opened spaces of the park will remain so. “We’re going to ground every stump down and replace every single tree that we’ve brought down … I figure within the next month or so we’ll have brand new trees in here,” he said.
Fruitless Chinese pistache and Raywood ash will be planted where Modesto ash once stood. The pistache, a relative of the pistachio tree, is a fairly long-lived shade tree that can rise to 30-60 feet tall, according to Stephanie Wrightson, a University of California master gardener. Its deciduous leaves become brilliantly colored in the autumn. A rugged tree, it resists cold, heat, drought, fire, wind and pests. But it tends to look gawky when young.
As for the Raywood ash, Hernandez said, “Those are nice strong trees, and you know they’re drought tolerant and they can take the bugs a little better than these Modesto ash trees.”
In autumn, the leaves of a Raywood ash turn purple-red, giving the shade tree a “shimmering” appearance, according to UC Master Gardener Bill Silfvast.
For now, fewer benches than usual stand in Courthouse Memorial Park. “We took them out because they were too close to the trees that were gonna be pulled out. So we didn’t want the benches damaged,” Hernandez said.
New benches will be rooted in concrete once the landscaping work is finished.
The timing of all the tree cutting is no accident. The county did not want to take any chances when thousands gather in central Madera to celebrate Old Timers Day today. “That was one of the reasons we were in a hurry to bring them all down,” he said. “Because we were afraid that a branch would fall on someone and maybe hurt or injure someone really bad.”
The safety of regular visitors also concerned Hernandez.
“I can sleep better at night knowing that all these old trees are down, instead of worrying every night that one of these branches were going to fall on someone,” he said. “In this park there’s a lot of people who stay here (overnight) — the homeless. So that was one of my main worries (with) all these trees here.”