Petaluma's Center Park is one tree short of the three iconic redwoods that have long characterized the little park in the heart of downtown.
The three coast redwood trees, about 80 years old, have become emblematic of downtown Petaluma for many residents, often tied to fond memories like the annual tree lighting ceremony, where deceased loved ones are honored.
The sickest of the three, the northernmost one, came down in pieces Wednesday morning, Oct. 9, a little more than a month after an arborist informed the city that the ailing tree was dead at the bottom and should be removed for safety reasons.
"It's pretty impactful, the trees are iconic and important to the community," said Ron DeNicola, the city's parks and landscape manager. "A lot of people were sad to see it go, but we did a lot of explaining, and most people realized it was not a good idea to leave the tree standing through the winter."
For years, the trees have struggled — especially the northernmost one, which had to be trimmed in 2011 to reduce the risk to passers-by.
City staff have tried numerous fixes for the tree in the last seven years, including installing misters to recreate the effect of fog, supplementing the soil and mulching the area.
At the arborist's suggestion, the city's tree advisory committee directed city staff to issue a request for proposals for removing the redwood.
Petaluma-based company Sonoma-Marin Arborists offered to do the task for free. They took down the tree, about 50 feet tall, in pieces on Wednesday with the help of a crane company, Precision Crane, which also donated its time. Then they took salvagable wood to the city's corporation yard, where it will be saved for future projects.
"There was some really beautiful wood," DeNicola said.
The city wants to keep as much usable wood as possible so that it can be turned into a memorial or piece of public art. Salvaged pieces included 12-foot-long boards and two larger pieces that were kept intact in case an artist might want to turn them into sculptures.
A subcommittee has formed from the city's Tree Advisory Committee to discuss what the future of that wood, and the space left by the tree in Center Park, might be.
So far, they've considered a bench, a totem, or fencing to go around the park and protect the other trees' roots from being trodden. There's also been talk of planting another tree in place of the one that was removed.
"We want to do something community-oriented with the wood, we just don't know what yet," said Councilmember and tree committee liaison Teresa Barrett.
Recommendations will go to the Recreation, Music and Parks Commission for final approval.
(Contact Jamie Hansen at jamie.hansen@ar guscourier.com.)