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Petaluma rallies to save dying Center Park trees

  • A distressed redwood, right, stands in the center median near the intersection of Petaluma Blvd North and B Street in Petaluma, on Wednesday, June 27, 2012. (BETH SCHLANKER/ PD)

The state tree isn't faring well in Petaluma.

At least one of three iconic redwood trees in the city's tiny Center Park along Petaluma Boulevard North is dying and on life support.

All three trees -- estimated to be more than 80 years old and more than 60 feet tall -- are struggling to survive in their cramped confines in a strip of grass surrounded by sidewalks, parking spaces and roads.

They provide welcome foliage and shade in the midst of the downtown concrete. They are an easily identified meeting spot. And for 27 years, they have served as community symbols of lost loved ones during the annual Hospice of Petaluma's "Light Up a Life" tree-lighting ceremony.

City historians place the trees' age at about 85 years, based on photos of the newly planted trees, with horse-drawn buggies nearby. Healthy redwoods can live more than 1,000 years.

City building and grounds manager Ron DeNicola said the trees' deterioration was first investigated in about 2006.

"We found no evidence of disease. They're all just stressed from the environment," he said.

The city put in misting systems to simulate the coastal fog they thrive on. Workers removed the hard-packed turf under their canopies, replacing it with mulch. They even injected healthy microbes underground to help nutrients enter the root system.

A few years ago about 25 feet was cut from the top of the northernmost, and sickest, tree in a bid to extend its life.

"We did everything we could -- and here we are six years later," DeNicola said. "There's not much we can do."

Faced with the potential loss, the community is rallying to help.

A city Tree Committee meeting on the issue drew nearly 20 people, including arborists and nearby business owners. More recently, a chainsaw carver offered his services to turn the tree into a totem pole.

Hospice of Petaluma event coordinator Cheri Plattner said about 1,800 people attend each year's December tree lighting, in which all three trees are strung with lights "sponsored" in memory of a loved one. It's the group's biggest fundraiser of the year.

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