A Champion Tree Dies A Fiery Death

Swamp White Oak in Father Hooper’s Field of Herring Run Park.

In Herring Run Park, in northeast Baltimore City, a champion White Swamp Oak lost its battle to survive. Nature gives and nature takes, but the death of this particular tree is perhaps a preventable tragedy of circumstance.

Sunday, August 1, 2010, was a beautiful sunny day, and a soccer game in Father Hooper Field at Harford Road and Chesterfield Avenue in Herring Run Park drew a gathering of cheering onlookers. Canopies were set-up, a charcoal grill was going and it seemed a perfect event. Three porta-potties set in the shade of the old White Swamp Oak for the comfort of spectators and players. What could be more perfect?  At game’s end, the spent hot coals from the grill were disposed of into one of the porta-potties. The hot coals combined with residual liquid to set the two adjacent potties ablaze. The Baltimore City fire department responded quickly and extinguished the fire. But alas, the damage had taken its toll on this magnificent champion. The fire climbed twenty five feet up the trunk searing the bark to a blackened toast. Beneath it laid the melted blue plastic of the porta-potties, burned toilet tissue, springs and latches from the doors, and the remains of the charcoal that had caused this inferno.

The Friends of Herring Run Parks set in motion a collaborative effort between Bartlett Tree Experts and City Forestry to save the tree. Recommended ground root injections the following spring proved futile. Slowly the Swamp White Oak lost its battle to survive. This champion tree was by far the most impressive of any that grew on Hooper Field. Recent measurements taken after its demise showed a girth of 17 feet equaling a diameter of 65 inches, a height of 87 feet, and a canopy of 90 feet. It was once home to a hanging Baltimore oriole nest, the first observed by this writer. The birds that called this tree home seemed to ignore the noise of nearby games and made their constant back and forth flights in search of food.

An effort is underway now to remove this huge tree for the safety of all who continue to use this field to play soccer, exercise their dogs, bird watch, or just walk and bike from path to path. To help in this effort, please contact the City Arborist Erik Dihle at Erik.Dihle@baltimorecity.gov and ask him to have this champion tree removed.



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