Breathing room for the school’s maple tree

The big leaf maple tree in front of Orcas Elementary is here to stay.

It’s been a giving tree for generations of Orcas Island kids – and will continue to be, despite its ailing health.

Speculation has been swirling over the big leaf maple tree in front of Orcas Elementary, but superintendent Barbara Kline says the beloved tree is here to stay. It just can’t be climbed on and loved as roughly as in days of yore.

“It’s an old story that we might have to take it down but we won’t be – the idea is to keep it,” Kline said. “The tree has been recently reevaluated and it’s in better shape than we previously thought.”

The centenarian tree was planted by students Walter and Harry Sutherland, David Nicol and John Harrison on Arbor Day, 1905, according to 1963 data provided by maintenance technician David Johnson. It has decay in its lower main trunks and parts of its top, but its large limbs are solid wood. School staff have expressed concerns about the safety of those who walk beneath the tree.

Dr. Olaf Ribeiro and Scott Baker, regional experts on tree health and structural integrity, agreed to evaluate the maple. Baker worked free of charge, in consideration of the school district’s budget constraints, and Doe Bay Resort chipped in free lodging for him.

After extensive study, both Baker and Romeiro agreed the tree should be saved, and made certain recommendations.

“Children should not be allowed to climb into it and discouraged from walking on the root zone under it,” said arborist Herlwyn Lutz, who is works with Baker of the consulting firm, Tree Solutions, Inc. and is overseeing the project.

The compacted earth above the tree’s roots needs to be loosened, treated with root-stimulating bio-fertilizer and covered with woodchip mulch. They suggested removing dead wood in the canopy as well as thinning and shortening limbs to reduce weight.

As soon as donors can be found for the cost of materials, flexible cables and limb-to-ground supports will be installed.

“With this help, this wonderful elder of our community should be enjoyed many years in the future,” Lutz said.