nature park tree

Jim Hubbell walks his dog, Bogey, past an old box elder tree in Denzil Stewart Nature Park on Thursday.

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There are a lot of trees at Denzil Stewart Nature Park in Logan, but one that stands alone near the entrance of the park has gained special status among regular visitors there.

Its shade provides a popular picnic spot, couples looking for pleasant wedding photos often pose in front of it, and kids can easily access its low branches for climbing.

“Look at that tree and you’ll say, ‘That’s special,’” said John Tallmadge, a Logan Island resident and retired tree surgeon who visits the park often. “‘Iconic’ is the word I use to describe it, but they call trees that stand out like this ‘specimen trees.’ It’s not necessarily that the species is unique, but the tree’s mode of growth and its position in the environment make it a dramatic tree for that particular setting.”

As it happens, this beloved landmark is a member of the much-maligned box elder species, which many categorize as “weed trees” because of their often unruly growth patterns and the brittleness of their branches.

Tallmadge has admired this particular box elder tree for many years, largely because it doesn’t fit the stereotype. But to help preserve its uniqueness and enhance its overall health, Tallmadge has long believed the tree could use a general pruning to eliminate deadwood.

As a result of recent conversations with city parks officials, Tallmadge has been a catalyst for making this happen, and it turns out it will be a unique process that garners the venerable box elder even more special attention.

Enter certified arborist Mark Malmstrom, a tree-climbing champion and co-owner of the Acer Trees pruning service that operates largely on the Wasatch Front.

Since the Stewart Nature Park box elder is in a natural area where tree-trimming equipment could cause a disruption, and since Logan does not permit climbing by its tree crews, the city contacted Malmstrom for the job.

The work of a certified arborist involves the use of ropes and other low-impact methods that Tallmadge thinks some Cache Valley residents might enjoy watching. He phoned The Herald Journal on Thursday to get the word out about the unique tree surgery, which is expected to start around 10 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 11.

“We’re familiar with Mark and some of the expert work that he does,” said Logan Parks and Recreation Director Russ Akina. “It’s pretty unique. He prefers to climb, tie on and cut without the use of a boom truck or lift, which in my estimation is quite a profession. It’s always cool to watch and really a science.”

According to his business website, Malmstrom is a “tree worker/climber specialist” credentialed through the International Society of Arboriculture. He has competed regularly in the Utah Tree Climbing Competition, reaching the finals eight times and winning four times.

Tallmage, 82, estimates the Stewart Nature Park box elder is about his age. He said his wish to get the tree trimmed has met resistance from a few park regulars worried about the elimination of bird habitat, particularly woodpecker nesting holes in one large dead limb, but Akina said the city decided to go ahead with the job for public safety reasons.

Tallmage contends the holes are no longer used by woodpeckers but starlings instead, and in either event he has a plan to mitigate the loss.

“When that piece comes down, I can cut it up and keep the integrity of those holes and simply put them in another part of the tree. I’ve done that at my house,” he said, explaining he uses a backing board to mount limb segments with nesting holes on live tree limbs.

“Birds are reasonable individuals. They’ll look around and say, ‘Hey, new neighborhood, looks OK, we’ll move in,’” Tallmadge said.

Akina said the city might be amenable to this plan, depending on what the arborist determines after examining and working on the tree.

“Could that limb stay or be cut and repositioned? He might be able to determine that once he’s on site,” Akina said.

How the city maintains Denzil Stewart Nature Park has been a subject of some debate over the years. The land was donated to the city with the stipulation that it “be developed and used only as a nature park, depicting the natural plants, trees, shrubs, animals, birds etc., historically natural and native to the Cache Valley area.”

Should this be interpreted as a “hands off” mandate for the Logan Parks and Recreation Department, which manages the area? Akina says not entirely, especially when it comes to public safety and maintaining access.

“We have a lot of folks who are very fond of the park, and some have a definition that we sometimes don’t share ... and sometimes trimming trees can become part of that,” Akina said. “We try our best to meet the definition of nature, natural, native. All of those terms tend to apply to the park, but much of it, as we have found over time, has to do with the eye of the beholder.”

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