Of the many benefits of working at Crystal Bridges, having 3.5 miles of trails on over 100 acres of Ozark forest to explore is one of my favorites. I especially appreciate the trails during the winter, when the leaves are off the trees, and you get different views of the landscape and architecture that cannot be seen at other times of the year.
This winter I have noticed many fallen and dead trees while on the trails. In some areas the trees are left in place, and in others they have been cut and stacked. I know that dead trees can provide habitat for many different creatures, but I wanted to know more about how our grounds crew approached this issue. I called our Trails and Grounds manager Clay Bakker for the rundown.
The first priority of our dead tree strategy involves whether the trees have the potential to be dangerous to our guests. If a tree dies on or near our trails and poses a threat to humans, it will be removed. Healthy trees with dead branches are continuously evaluated to determine if branches need to be removed for safety reasons.
Typically dead trees are left for habitat and are viewed as “part of the system.” Dead trees provide habitat for many insects, mammals, and birds including red bats, squirrels, ‘possums, raccoons, chipmunks, barn owls, great horned owls, wasps, bees, carpenter ants, beetles, salamanders, and snakes. If a tree dies off-trail in our inner forest, they are usually left alone unless they pose a threat to smaller trees growing underneath. Fallen trees will be cleaned up if they prevent blooming trees, such as dogwoods, from blooming nearby.
I have also noticed cut and stacked logs throughout the grounds in some places, and entire dead trees that are untouched in other areas. According to Clay, in Winter we hire arborist David Rains to come in and deal with many of the tree issues, including dead trees and dead branches. While previously healthy dead trees are generally left alone to become habitat, dead trees that are diseased and unsightly are treated differently. The larger branches of the unhealthy trees are cut and stacked. The smaller branches are run through a wood chipper and the wood chips are left in place on the ground. The chipper itself is large—roughly the size of a car, and our team will tow it around the grounds to clean up after David does his work. The stacked logs are hauled off when time permits. We have around 120 acres of land, so our Trails and Grounds team is busy year round and most of the cleanup occurs in Winter.
At the “Farmhouse” on our property (which is used for housing for visiting artists and scholars), we have about 60 ricks of stacked wood and will add about 20 more after our next round of cleanup. A rick of stacked wood is roughly 4ft tall and 8ft long and as wide as the logs themselves, typically around 16 inches.
Another example of our approach to trees on the Museum grounds occurred when a large walnut tree died in a forested area near the Skyspace on the Art Trail. Red wasps established a large nest in the dead tree, and aggressively stung a handful of guests, including a one-year-old child. Due to the aggressive nature of the wasps, the nest was eradicated, albeit reluctantly. According to Clay, we try to be conscientious and maintain the ecosystem if possible. Wasps can be considered a pest to humans, but they feed on insects that are plant damaging, and help to keep the system in check. We try and leave the inner forest alone and attempt to maintain the ecosystem as much as possible, except in a case when something like these wasps negatively impacts guests.
See you on the trail.
Editor’s Note: A couple of weeks ago, a blog reader asked us, with some concern, about crews cutting down what appear to be healthy trees on the Museum grounds. I asked our horticulturalist, Cody George, about this and got the following very interesting, if somewhat sad, response: “The only trees that are selected to be removed are trees that have been affected by hypoxylon canker. This is a disease that has affected mostly black and white oaks in our area over the past few years. This canker has been severe due to the prolonged heat and drought of 2011/2012. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of a treatment except removal of affected trees. Although the trees may look healthy, our trained staff will notice the tell-tale signs of this canker. By removing these, we hope to one day contain and eliminate this problem. We do not cut down trees that are not affected.”