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Historic tree is on the mend

MCNABB — Richard Ashdown of rural McNabb knew he was in trouble when he heard the sound of a large crack in July coming from his white oak tree in his yard. The tree, listed as one of the oldest white oak trees in the state of Illinois, had a large limb that was breaking off of its trunk.

"It happened on July 15 at 11 o'clock in the morning," said Ashdown. "I heard a couple of large crack sounds from outside and knew as I looked out that I had trouble."

The limb, which was 10 feet around and approximately 70 feet long had started cracking.

Dennis Taylor, an ISA Certified Arborist of Taylor's Trees and Turf of Princeton, had his eyes on this tree long before the broken limb happened.

"It's been about two years. Whenever I am in the area, I drop by it," said Taylor. "I got my brother's company to come by, and we investigated and made contact with Dick."

Ashdown said, "As soon as they came by and talked to me, I knew I wanted them to work on the tree for me."

Taylor's Trees and Turf called in John Sims of John's Tree and Lawn Care of Tiskilwa to assist in the delicate operation of saving the historic landmark of nature.

"I made three trips down here that Monday when I saw it," said Taylor. "After I showed John the pictures, he told me he could take care of it. I told him that he really should see the tree. After we came down here, he got out of the truck and saw the tree and went, 'Holy Cow.'"

Concerns for the tree included the fact that if the tree branch broke off too hard, it might tear into the tree trunk and also take off bark from the main trunk. According to Taylor, losing a branch that big off the tree could have led to further damage on a tree that old.

It took Taylor and Sims along with Taylor employees Josh Taylor and Leo Artega about a day and a half to carefully set up a rope system to dangle them from upper branches and cut down the cracked limb. Extreme care was taken in not damaging other branches while working on the broken one. Neither Taylor nor Sims would take any payment for their work and considered it an honor to be able to help Ashdown and his tree. Ashdown joked that it only cost him a couple of days' lunches for the help.

Ashdown took the opportunity of having an exposure of rings in the removed branch to count the number of rings to get an estimate of how old the tree is today. He estimates the tree could be 200 to 300 years old.

Jim Ream, who had nominated the tree more than 30 years ago for the designation as the oldest white oak tree in Illinois was concerned for the health of the tree as well. Reams now measured the tree at 23.35 feet and in diameter and standing about 63 feet tall.

In reference to the broken limb, Ashdown noted the tree has stood a real test of time.

"I tell you, nature will take care of it," said Ashdown. "It has taken care of it so far and will again."

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