It’s not the end for McLane Creek’s old maple tree

The McLane Creek Trail was bustling with activity on Friday morning – though it wasn’t the typical slew of hikers, dog-walkers and bikers heading out for a morning jaunt among the trees.

Instead, crews from the Washington Department of Natural Resources and Roger’s Tree Service solemnly gathered to see the safe removal of a beloved maple tree. The tree is recognized by recreationists as a meeting spot near the beginning of the trail by the visitor’s kiosk.

The towering 80-year-old bigleaf maple has long been a landmark for visitors to the 100,000-acre Capitol Forest and a welcoming steward to the miles of trails beyond its roots. However, the old tree fell victim to tree rot and needed to be removed for safety.

“This was everyone’s meeting place,” Phil Wolff, recreation manager for Capitol Forest said. “It sets the stage when you’re walking up here.”

“We already had about half a dozen people trying to come here (to recreate) before 8 a.m.,” Craig Mitchell, DNR recreation forester, added.

The trail is scheduled to reopen on Saturday morning.

McLane Creek was temporarily closed while the crews worked, using funds from purchased Discover Passes to take the tree down piece by piece and stack the lumber into neat piles.

Wolff said he had been keeping an eye on the massive tree for fear that it might have to come down after a weighty branch broke away and crashed to the ground a month ago.

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The bigleaf maple near the visitor’s kiosk at McLane Creek had a large branch break off last month. Crews determined the 80-year-old tree was becoming a danger to the high volume of people that come to McLane Creek to recreate. Photo by Sarah Dettmer

“I was worried about it even before that,” Wolff said. “This maple had multiple stems and these trees catch water in the crotch of those stems and eventually rot.”

The scar from the incident a month ago gave crews a peak into the inner workings of the tree. What they saw wasn’t good.

“There is a lot of decay and rot and it creates safety concerns for hikers,” Roger Dilworth, owner and operator of Roger’s Tree Service, said. “It’s unfortunately just a bad situation.”

Wolff said he’s amazed that the bigleaf maple has lasted for almost 80 years. Hardwoods typically don’t live as long as conifer trees, which can remain standing tall long after they’re dead.

Hardwood trees are weighed down by heavy branches and leaves. It’s not uncommon for them to break in high winds or even the under their own weight. This maple lasted for almost eight decades until it eventually surpassed the level of acceptable risk for such a high-trafficked area.

But even though the tree no longer stands at the head of McLane Creek, it will continue to live on in Capitol Forest. Volunteers from the Native Plant Society have plans to repurpose the salvageable wood from the tree to rehabilitate old trails and construct natural blockades to discourage visitors from straying from established trails.

McLane Creek draws hundreds of people each fall to its banks to watch the salmon as they dance beneath the water and search for mates. This event has caused some social trails, unofficial trails that can cause erosion and harm to sensitive vegetation, to appear. Rather than putting up more signs, Wolff said lumber from this tree will help create natural blockades to keep people on designated paths through the forest.

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Roger Dilworth, owner and operator of Roger’s Tree Service, uses a chainsaw to remove sections of timber from an 80-year-old maple tree near Mclane Creek in Capitol Forest. Photo by Sarah Dettmer

Wolff and Mitchell watched in reverence as the final bows of the bigleaf maple toppled to the ground and were sorted into piles.

“It’s too bad,” they said. But the tree’s tenure in Capitol Forest is far from over.

For information on visiting McLane Creek and Capital State Forest, visit http://www.dnr.wa.gov/Capitol.