The last standing grove of mature green ash trees in the Eastern Panhandle is the subject of an ongoing preservation project organized by the Shepherdstown Community Club (SCC).
Located in Morgan’s Grove Park, which is owned by SCC, the approximately 70 trees are under threat from the emerald ash borer. The trees were first treated in 2014, received a second treatment in 2016, and are in need of the same this year. A hefty price tag is attached to each of these operations—approximately $12,000 a go.
Most of the trees are in a cluster formation near the children’s playground and around the picnic pavilion.
Shawn Walker, of Trees101 in Shepherdstown, is the attending arborist; he first approached the SCC in 2013 about the problem.
“My 2014 treatment of the ash trees at the park was one of the first times I had ever treated ashes for emerald ash borer [beetle],” he said. “I have occasionally performed similar treatments on other tree species since 2000.”
Walker uses a pesticide called Tree-age, which is injected into the vascular system of the tree. This pesticide kills the borer larvae.
In 2014, 75 trees were inspected by Walker and he treated 73. The remainder were facing a condition that was too poor to be reversed. 2016 saw the treatment of 72 trees, reflecting a loss of only one tree since the care plan was instituted. In planning for the next round, Walker does expect to remove a couple of trees from the treatments, as they are facing a decline. Even with the grove decreasing in size by a fraction, the vast majority remain in excellent shape.
The SCC anticipates, with continued biennial treatments and standard care such as pruning deadwood, the ash trees will continue to flourish.
The decision to enter into an ongoing preservation project for the trees was twofold. First, the estimated cost to remove all of the trees would have totaled approximately $100,000—owing to the diameter of many of the trunks. Additionally, the cost associated with planting new trees wouldn’t be small. If the trees weren’t removed, it was very likely they would die, become brittle, and branches might fall, possibly threatening visitors to the park.
“It takes massive amounts of time, expense, dedication, and good fortune to re-grow something like this, especially in a multi-use public space,” said Walker.
Second, Walker notes the importance of preserving native species and calls it a “manifestation of environmental stewardship.”
While the SCC has paid for the cost of the treatments, they have received support from the Cacapon Institute and the Eastern Panhandle Conservation District. They also point to the endorsement of the preservation project by Herb Peddicord, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed forester for the West Virginia Division of Forestry.
“A legacy can be saved, and I feel this will be the only stand of ash trees left in the Eastern Panhandle,” said Peddicord.
The SCC posits the trees are not only the last grove in the Eastern Panhandle, but perhaps, too, within the state of West Virginia. The organization does welcome financial donations to assist in preserving the trees. Checks can be made out to Ash Trees – Shepherdstown Community Club, and sent to P.O. Box 463, Shepherdstown, WV 25443.By H.S. Leigh Koonce