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End draws near for English Camp's 300-year-old BigLeaf Maple

Declared dead by arborists, the 300-year-old BigLeaf Maple that towers over the Royal Marine Barracks at San Juan Island National Historical Park
Declared dead by arborists, the 300-year-old BigLeaf Maple that towers over the Royal Marine Barracks at San Juan Island National Historical Park's English Camp, at right, will be cut down June 20.
— image credit: Courtesy of SJI National Historical Park

Steve Wehrly, Journal Reporter

It's a giant old tree that nobody wants to cut down, but the Bigleaf maple that towers over the Royal Marine Barracks at English Camp is dead—and dangerous to the historic barracks and to park visitors.

So, according to National Park Service arborists, it needs to be removed.  Which is just what a San Juan National Historical Park maintenance crew will do on June 20.

“This is not an action we undertake lightly, as this particular maple is nearly 300 years old and has cultural as well as natural significance,”said Parks Superintendent Lee Taylor. “However, it is essential that we safeguard the Royal Marine Barracks, and most importantly our staff and visitors.”

The Bigleaf maples (Acer macrophyllum) at English Camp are some of the oldest and largest living things on San Juan Island. One still-extant tree, near the camp's Formal Gardens, was once claimed to be the "world's largest" until lightning strikes claimed part of the crown and several large branches.

That still-massive tree might yet be "world's oldest": a bore/core sample taken 50 years ago supports a current age of 339 years.

The maple that will be removed, and many others of its genus, is actually a cluster of several trees that have grown together over the centuries. It's not the biggest or oldest in the world, but it is among the most beloved on the island and has served as the background for many photographs.

One such photo shows the pioneer-era Crook family and friends posing in the massive trunk among limbs rising 80 feet or more into the summer sky. Taylor said the park hopes to commemorate the tree in some way.

“We were thinking it might be fun if we could find carvers who could fashion crafts that could be sold in the site’s gift shop area when it is open during the summer season,” she said. "We plan to leave the old stump in place and either grown a new tree out of that stump or right next to it."

According to Mike Vouri, the park's chief of interpretation, the heartwood is a light reddish-brown in color, fine-grained, moderately heavy, hard and strong.

"It will take a high polish and is known for grain patterns similar to Curly or Bird's Eye maple," Vouri said in an NPS press release.

Vouri says he'd like to hear from island woodworkers and artists and how they might use the wood in creative ways. Contact Vouri at (360) 378-2240, extension 2227.

 

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