Sunday - Jan 20, 2019

Downtown tree replacement underway

City of Asheville Arborist Mark Foster walks up to a tree on Battery Park Avenue and effortlessly flecks away a piece of loose, spongy bark revealing exposed wood instead of a normal, colorful inner bark. The London plane sycamore is dying, he says, along with the others on that stretch of sidewalk. For the past few seasons, Public Works staff have trimmed the canopies of the row of trees further and further back to remove dead branches, and this spring, he doesn’t expect many of them to leaf out at all. “These are in bad shape.” he says. “This is a mismatch between a tree and the environment it needs.”

City of Asheville arborist Mark Foster

City of Asheville arborist Mark Foster examines a Bradford pear tree that lost a limb last year outside the Haywood Park Hotel.

Like many of the trees in downtown Asheville, the sycamores were planted some 20 years ago and, alongside others in the Downtown Business District, will be replaced in the coming weeks.

Foster is aware of the exposure that removing trees earns in Asheville, and as an arborist, is sympathetic to the desire for healthy, attractive trees in the city. That’s why these sycamores, along with the others being removed, will be replaced with young, stronger and easier to maintain specimens like fruitless sweet gum and Cleveland select pear trees.

sycamore damage on Battery Park

Deterioration of sycamores on Battery Park Avenue.

Probably the highest-profile of the projects will be the replacement of large Bradford pear trees in front of the Haywood Park Hotel. Older Bradford pear trees, Foster says, are highly susceptible to broken limbs during storms, and heavier limbs become a hazard if they extend over sidewalks and traffic. And, he says, the trees grow wide canopies that tend to impact buildings like the Haywood Park Hotel, the owners of which agree with Foster’s assessment. “People planted Bradford pears because they are attractive when they bloom and they are urban tolerant.” Foster says. “It wasn’t until they began falling apart 15 or 20 years later that people realized it wasn’t such a good idea.”

The introduction of Cleveland select pears and fruitless sweet gum on the site, which have a more upright branch form, will offer the ability to maintain the new canopy and keep it off of surrounding buildings, Foster says.

Example of Cleveland select pear tree at Miles Building

New plantings will include Cleveland select pear trees like this one that are more easily maintained and better suited to an urban environment.

Already, crews can be seen removing red and sugar maples on College Street behind the Biltmore building. In those cases, the trees are upending and buckling the sidewalk to the point where the pedestrian walkway needs to be replaced. Unfortunately, Foster says, the trees were not planted low enough relative to the walkway to avoid cracking it, making it necessary to repair the sidewalk to make it safe and meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards. “It was getting so distorted that it was becoming a concern,” Foster says.

The new trees, a mix of red maple and American holly, will be planted lower and with a root barrier in place to prevent their encroachment and degradation of the sidewalks. Trees on Patton Avenue at the BB&T building will also be replaced to make necessary sidewalk repairs.

Maple trees sidewalk

Maple trees on College Street have begun to buckle the sidewalk there, requiring replacement of the tree and the walkway.

And, he says, the younger trees will allow an opportunity for developmental pruning that was not done in the case of many downtown trees. This kind of pruning helps develop good form and branch structure and reduces the amount of maintenance they need later in life.

Click here to see more about Asheville’s street trees.

  1. Brian Sneeden

    March 30, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    With all due respect for the city, and for Mike Foster, the decision to remove the Bradford Pear trees was an example of poor judgment.

    The explanation that these trees are fragile does not hold water. These “weak trees” stood up significantly well to the 2004 hurricane winds that took down a number of large limbs in the downtown area. That the tree lost one limb last year is no grounds for the demolition of the most beautiful row of trees in downtown Asheville. Wouldn’t a more sensible solution have been to prevent delivery vehicles in that 12-foot stretch of parking?

    Mike Foster’s decision was short-sighted, and the timing could not have been worse. This is a significant blow to the aesthetic beauty of the city, and I ask that the local government spend more mental energy in the replacement of these trees than it did on their removal.

  2. Clare Hanrahan

    April 11, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    Mr. Foster,
    Many of us would like to know just when the promised replacement trees will be planted? It is heartbreaking to pass by and see the barren spaces where once stood a line of blooming pear trees.

  3. Tim's tree service st louis

    July 6, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    Many things can effect a tree over a period of 20 years, no matter how hard one tries to keep them healthy.
    At least the city is replacing the trees … one can’t fault them for this.


  4. Jason Sykes

    August 6, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    I think its great that cities around the country are engaging in these tree replacement projects. Studies have shown good trees and shade lower crime and create a happier community.

  5. Jim

    August 18, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    I think its great that cities around the country are engaging in these tree replacement projects. Studies have shown good trees and shade lower crime and create a happier community.

  6. Mehmet

    August 20, 2011 at 4:16 am

    A positive for the city really, trees are important for us to live in a healthy place. Keep going.

  7. The IronDog

    August 29, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    Replacing those dying trees and replanting young healthy ones is wonderful move by the city. With nurturing, over time that area will regain its beauty.

  8. Big City News

    August 29, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    Many other cities still think that the nature will take care of tree replacement.
    Unfortunately this is not the case. Since the trees in the cities are damaged mostly due to pollution or other “man-made” issues, the nature is having a hard time to replace all the damaged plants on it’s own.
    So it is forward thinking from a city management to do such activities to increase the quality of life in the city. This will keep residents there, bring new ones and therefore increase tax-revenues – more money to spend :)

  9. Colleen Redman

    September 1, 2011 at 5:01 am

    It’s hard to figure out my local governments, globally, appear to be wise after the event, instead of before. The people who initially plan these planting of “fragile” trees, should not be in this line of work. Many councils in Australia have planted liquidambers, which although very beautiful, cause major destruction of footpaths. Because of overhead powerlines, councils have cut out the center of the trees,to allow a safe pathway for the powerlines. This destroys the beauty of the trees, and causes large heavy branches to break, falling on cars, and people.
    A number of deaths have occurred as a result.

  10. Amberen Reviews

    September 1, 2011 at 7:30 am

    I was in Ashville last summer for a short vacation from Chicago. Really had a nice time and enjoyed the southern hospitality. I remember the quaint feel of the town and I think the tree lined streets had a lot to do with that sense. So, it’s probably important for your tourist industry to keep up with the tree replacement program.

  11. Brian

    September 10, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    A city that includes nice healthy and well maintained trees on the sidewalks makes for a very attractive place to visit .Keep up the good work.

  12. Chris

    October 13, 2011 at 11:10 am

    They do this my community too. It’s a little sad to see a tree that has grown for 20 years just taken down, but as long as it’s replaced, it needs to be done.

  13. Mo Bradley

    July 25, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    In response to those commentors who are criticizing Mr. Foster’s decision to replace the trees, I have to say that these trees have been evaluated by an expert, one who instead of cutting down the trees for commercial gain, is replacing the trees with species that will be better maintained, and in the long run, better for the city.

    It is a fact that a lot of these trees are unhealthy so I would rather see them replaced with another species of tree than just cut down and forgotten. I respect Mr. Foster’s decision.

  14. Susie Smith

    August 6, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    Yes, I agree that this is a good decision for the city of Asheville. Sometimes trees that are planted prove to be the wrong trees, so there really isn’t anything wrong with an expert evaluating the situation and replacing them with trees that are better suited to the area.

  15. AP Designs

    November 22, 2012 at 10:12 pm

    It is a shame that the Bradford Pear Trees were taken up. I remember them from a visit in 2009. At least the city is providing new trees and not just replacing them with planters like they did in our city!


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