Katie Peterson | Staff Writer

Fort Leavenworth is home to many large trees, including 10 state Champion Trees, and many of them are more than 100 years old.

Carolyn Crissman walks down the steps by a large sycamore tree on her way to Gruber Fitness Center Feb. 21. After a water main break practically under the tree, workers rerouted the water main to ensure no other issues occur within the drip line of the tree. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

“They’re old. In the historic district, they’re considered part of the historic integrity of the installation and (it is) also important to maintain and keep alive large trees in the area because of the historical landscape,” said Neil Bass, natural resources specialist for the Department of Public Works. “(For example,) we have this large grove of pecan trees that have been here since before European settlement.”

To preserve these trees, extreme measures sometimes must be taken.

“The military mission takes precedence over the trees, but if something can be done to maintain these historic trees, these large trees; the fort and DPW try to go out of their way to maintain them and not kill them,” Bass said.

Such was the case recently when a water main broke on the west side of Gruber Fitness Center directly under two large sycamore trees to the north, putting them in jeopardy.

“The original intent was to go in and put the line back right in place, but to do that they would’ve had to dig down several feet into the root mass of the trees and that probably would have eliminated at least 50 percent of the root mass,” Bass said.

“(Root mass) is important because, these roots, they hold the tree in place and they hold it in the ground. They also provide water and nutrients to the trees. If all of a sudden half of its food reserves are removed, it weakens the tree a lot. Then, over the next three to four years, the tree slowly dies because it doesn’t have the amount of roots it needs to sustain itself.”

To avoid this, DPW worked with American Water to reroute the waterline around the root masses of the trees, fixing the pipe and saving the trees. A valve was placed about 25 yards east of the tree, and the water main was rerouted to the south of the tree away from the drip line.

Workers with Rodriguez Mechanical, a subcontractor for American Water, work on a trench near mature sycamore trees Feb. 21 by Gruber Fitness Center. After a water main break practically under the largest tree, workers rerouted the water main to ensure no other issues occur within the drip line of the tree. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

Bass said, DPW being a part of the process is thanks in part to Col. Wayne Green, who served as the Garrison commander from August 2009 to June 2012.

“When he was here, they had some issues where they took out some trees, and he decided he wanted to try and maintain the beautiful trees here at Fort Leavenworth,” Bass said. “So, he mandated that every utility locate that gets done here on post has to come through the environmental office and through natural resources.

“My entire job, as far as that goes, is making sure that these projects don’t impact the trees,” he said. “I am the Lorax of Fort Leavenworth. I speak for the trees.”

Andy VanHoutan and Craig Henderson, laborers with Rodriguez Mechanical, a subcontractor for American Water, work in a trench near a mature sycamore tree Feb. 21 by Gruber Fitness Center. After a water main break practically under the tree, workers rerouted the water main to ensure no other issues occur within the drip line of the tree. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

Bass said the value of saving trees such as the sycamore is extensive.

“We as people tend to value trees just for their aesthetics. Trees also provide shade, oxygen and habitat for wildlife,” Bass said. “It has also been proven that homes, buildings and cities with trees actually have a higher economic value.”

However, the biggest value is perhaps the history itself since the sycamores are more than 90 years old, Bass said.

“That tree has been here longer than any human being has been on this post,” Bass said. “There is no way to replace that tree in our lifetime. If we were to cut it down, we could plant another tree, but no one here will live to see it be that again.”

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