Time ticking on Quintard's trees

·4 min read

Jun. 4—When Hayes Jackson travels, there's one thing he often hears about the Model City — and it's something good.

"When I tell people I'm from Anniston, they always say, 'I've been through there. It's the place with all the trees,'" said Jackson, an urban extension agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension system.

If you're from Anniston, you know exactly what Jackson means. For the thousands who pass through Anniston every day, the Model City is a strip of green — the mile-long stretch of Quintard Avenue where oaks and elms stand in a broad, park-like median. It's part of the city's brand, something that's been there as long as anyone can remember. But among city officials, there's a nagging concern that no one really knows how long those trees will last.

"Some of those trees are starting to die," City Manager Steven Folks said in a City Council work session this week. "There are two or three that need to come down right now."

Folks said it's time for the city to come up with a replacement plan for the trees — something that council members have also mentioned in recent days, as the council began planning their wish lists for spending the $13 million the city hopes to receive from the American Rescue Act. City officials now say it's unlikely the coronavirus relief bill can be used to pay for tree replacement, but they say there's still a need to start planning, particularly given the long time it takes new trees to grow.

"There are trees that are unwell," said David Arnett, the city's public works director. He said the city's two-person tree department is trying to figure out just how healthy those trees are. They're using a device called a resistograph to figure out the density of the wood, something that will help them identify rot in the wood. (Think of how you know you've hit a dense spot of wood when you're using a drill, and you have a good sense of how the machine works.)

Arnett isn't expecting all of those trees to come to the end of their lives at once. He expects to send a report to Folks later this year outlining which trees are well, which are unwell and which are dead.

"There will not be any living trees taken down, and if there are parts of the trees that are being taken down, we'll take down only what we need to," he said.

Former city arborist Danny Bussey, who now runs his own tree-care company, said he's not worried about any sort of mass die-off of the oaks and elms in the median.

"My sense is that there's a pretty good variety of age in the Quintard trees," he said.

Still, he said, the city in past years hasn't set aside a budget for tree replacement. Arnett, too, said there's no ongoing tree-replacement money in his department. When new trees do get planted, the money comes out of the city's general fund budget, approved by the council.

Arnett said the city does have a plan for replacing the trees, but it's several years old. He said Public Works is dusting off the plan with an eye toward updating it.

"You should be constantly replacing trees in your city," said Jackson, the extension agent. "I don't think we've been planting a lot of things in Anniston in the last few years."

Jackson said tree cover isn't only about the city's appearance. Studies have shown that people spend more money in shopping districts with more trees, he said. Jackson said he has taken students downtown to measure temperatures, and found an 8-degree temperature difference between areas with and without trees on a summer day.

The people who planted the trees on Quintard, he said, had the foresight to know that they'd be valuable decades in the future.

"If we don't replace the trees as they die, we'll be looking at a bare Quintard," he said.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.