|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Thursday, July 8, 2004
Chico Enterprise-Record 7-7-04
Chico State gnome tree' will be cut down
A horse chestnut tree that may have witnessed the fiery death of the first home of what became Chico State University, and for roughly 40 years has been the home of a white-bearded gnome, will be coming down before the end of the month.
The towering tree, located on the north side of Kendall Hall, the Chico State administration building, is particularly well-known on campus because of the depiction of nearly a 5-foot-tall gnome that peers out of a ground-level opening in the trunk.
About 50 years ago a limb ripped free from the tree. The gaping wound in the trunk was patched with concrete, according to Gary Vercruse, campus grounds and central supply manager.
Then sometime in the mid-60s an art student to date unidentified painted the gnome on the concrete.
Covered in lush summer foliage, the tree looks the picture of arboreal health, but Vercruse said Tuesday looks can be deceiving.
He said almost the entire core of the horse chestnut has decayed.
Vercruse said members of the campus grounds crew have been concerned about the future of the tree.
The university teams have used seven stout cables to support the tree limbs by binding them one to another.
However, the decay has reached the point where "the likelihood of failure (collapse of the tree) is pretty high," explained Vercruse.
Part of the cause of the problem may be traced back to the gnome, or at least to the concrete that is the canvas for the artwork.
Fifty years ago, according to Vercruse, the accepted procedure among tree specialists was to patch major wounds in a tree trunk with concrete "to block insects and parasitic organisms" from getting inside the trunk.
What wasn't known at the time was sealing the trunk in this way kept moisture inside the tree, which hastened decay of the wood.
Now the tree has pulled away from the right side of the gnome concrete, leaving a split up to four inches wide between the tree and the patch.
Another opening has formed above the concrete patch showing the interior of the trunk is all but hollow.
When the university officials became concerned about the safety of the tree, Britton Tree Service of Paradise was called in to evaluate the horse chestnut's future.
"The horse chestnut, located at Kendall Hall, has a high probability of failing," said the Britton report.
With the heavy foot traffic near the tree, the tree service recommended the tree "be scheduled for removal within the next six months," said the May 21 report.
"We are taking a guesstimate on 80 years but we won't actually know until we can count the tree rings," said Vercruse about the age of the tree.
If accurate, that means the tree was standing adjacent to the old Chico Normal School, which was located roughly on the same site as Kendall Hall, when the building was gutted by fire in August 1927.
Vercruse said the decision to take down the nearly 52-foot high tree was not easy.
"The tree's always been there and you just expect it to always be there," he said.
However, in the interest of safety the decision to remove the tree was unavoidable.
Also as an issue of safety, all major tree work on campus is done during the summer, when there are fewer people at the university.
Vercruse said the university officials considered trying to save the concrete slab that includes the gnome when the tree is removed.
However, after consulting with campus experts, it was decided, given the already damaged nature of the artwork and the high likelihood the concrete would be shattered in the process of taking down the tree, there will be no attempt to rescue the gnome.
At the same time, that doesn't mean the tree will utterly vanish.
Four years ago, when it became apparent the horse chestnut was in danger, an off-spring of the original tree was planted about 25 feet from the parent.
The "baby" tree is apparently thriving.
The specific date for the gnome tree's removal has yet to be determined,
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