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Vandalism to Landmark Tree Shocks Neighbors; Police Seek Information

By Deborah Shapley*

Restore Mass Ave was started last year by this writer and some neighbors to protect young trees along Massachusetts Avenue from drought, soil compaction and bad soil — the same threats faced by trees on streets across the city.

Getting local residents and embassies to care for trees along the sidewalks is our group’s priority. We have provided our information brochure to about 100 owners of buildings on Embassy Row and we have lobbied the local residents, gardeners, and ambassadors to water and mulch the street trees.

In order to “re-green” Embassy Row the area needs young street trees to survive and grow bigger leafy crowns, instead of dying every few years and being replaced at taxpayer expense. The city’s Urban Forestry Administration helpfully planted almost 50 new trees. As summer’s heat rolled in, we recruited “tree-keepers” who refilled green water bags around the most stressed trees. We also arranged for a water truck go tree-to-tree, watering their deeper roots.

Separately, the National Park Service took excellent care of the trees in the federal reservations – the small pocket parks that dot the Avenue. With their statues of leaders of freedom from around the world — Mohandas Gandhi, the Czech leader Tomas Masaryk, and the Irishman Robert Emmet — these parks are big attractions in Sheridan-Kalorama’s international neighborhood.

But, vandalism as a threat to trees never occurred to the people involved with Restore Mass Ave.

Yet, on December 24th, as this writer walked past the federal reservation park at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue with S and 24th Streets, what I saw were huge branches strewn around the base of the park’s principal tree, a large Deodar cedar, I saw jagged stubs protruding from its trunk where the branches had been cut. The Rock Creek Maintenance Division of the National Park Service came immediately and cleaned up the mess. Neither the Park Service, nor any authorized group, had mangled this tree. It was vandalism and truly shocking. The Park Police are investigating who did this and are seeking help from the public with any information that could help in apprehending those responsible for the damage. Tree cutting is a punishable federal offense. Anyone with information can call the Park Service hot line, day or night, at (202) 619-7105.

Why is this old Cedrus deodara important? It anchors the landscape for blocks around. It shades the statue of Emmet (who was executed in 1803 after his rebellion against British rule failed). The normal shape, or “habit,” of this tree is bushy with a wide triangular base — the cedar made Emmet Park look like almost like a forest. Washington, when it was gloriously planted with major trees in the late 19th century, was praised by visitors from bleak and dirty metropolises as “a city in a forest.”

Why should tall, old trees be maintained in their natural shapes? Big, bushy crowns of leaves absorb lots more pollution and give off far more oxygen than little ornamental trees. They provide deep shade and cooler sidewalks. The sidewalk by Emmet Park is a “heat island” where pollution and auto exhaust are trapped and make walking unhealthy. Restore Mass Ave is working to add major trees nearby so that the public will stop boiling and instead enjoy our natural heritage.

Restore Mass Ave is a 501(C)(3) federal tax exempt organization whose mission is to re-grow a healthful and elegant canopy of major trees along Embassy Row. For information, call (877) 463-0049 or send email to [email protected]

*Deborah Shapley is the founder and president of Restore Mass Ave, and, as such, she works closely with the National Park Service which has the responsibility for maintaining the trees growing within the federal reservation sites that dot the length of the Avenue such as Emmet Park.

Copyright (c) 2008 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Restore Mass Ave. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited, except as provided by 17 U.S.C. §§107 & 108 (“fair use”).