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New life for felled SRJC oak

  • Students and SRJC grounds crews use a portable mill to saw three inch planks from the trunk of a 250 year-old valley oak tree that fell near the sign at the front of the school last (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

The centuries-old oak tree that guarded the gateway to Santa Rosa Junior College is no longer standing after strong winds felled it in November, but staff are taking steps to ensure its continued presence on campus.

On Wednesday, SRJC student and employee Joe Grey used a portable sawmill to cut off a dining table-size slab from a portion of the tree's trunk. It and the other slabs he cut are destined to be re-used on campus, likely as benches and tables, said Carl Dobson, SRJC's manager of grounds and recycling.

“You could make something gorgeous with this,” Grey said as he brushed sawdust off the honey-colored trunk, which was several feet in diameter.

Grey, who works at Shone Farm through the school's Agriculture/Natural Resources Department, is planning to transfer to Humboldt State University to study forestry and seemed to be enjoying the opportunity to work with the tree.

“We had a lot of offers from companies,” to remove the tree, Dobson said, “but we wanted to give students and staff the experience.”

The campus will also plant two or three younger oaks in the place where the old one stood, just behind the brick sign on Mendocino Avenue. The young oaks were grown at SRJC from acorns gathered from the campus.

“It's a pretty important spot,” Dobson said, adding that the oak was probably the most prominent tree on campus.

The iconic valley oak, which weighed about 15 tons, sprouted around 250 years ago. It was one of many old oaks in a protected, park-like setting at the front of the campus, and it's probably one of the 10 oldest trees on campus, Dobson said. It was there before California became a state, before Santa Rosa became a city and before horticulturist Luther Burbank used the wooded site for botanical experiments, according to the Historical Society of SRJC. It has been in the college's hands since about 1931, Dobson said.

But during a ferocious wind storm in late November, a strong gust brought down the tree, which may have been somewhat weakened by age and a fungal disease from which many oaks suffer, said Dobson.

The tree had become a popular place for students to study or pass the time and when it fell it saddened many at the college.

Ryan McNab, 20, was standing with friends on steps across from the front lawn where the oak was being cut into pieces on Wednesday. She said she used to read and hang out under the tree between classes, especially when she first started attending SRJC.

“It was a cozy, really peaceful spot. It's a little sad to be honest,” she said of the tree coming down. However, she said she was glad to hear the tree would be used to create benches and tables for the campus: “I fully support that.”

You can reach Staff Writer Jamie Hansen at 521-5205 or jamie.hansen@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter at @JamieHansen.

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