2018-04-07 / News

Preserving Mackinac Island’s Few Remaining Elm Trees

By Jacob A. Ball


The stump of an elm tree remains at the corner of Marquette Park Monday, April 2. Planted in line with the corner tree, two mature elms are visible in the background. The stump of an elm tree remains at the corner of Marquette Park Monday, April 2. Planted in line with the corner tree, two mature elms are visible in the background. Trees have a finite lifespan, and this winter the Marquette Park elm tree at the corner of Fort and Main streets was removed, a victim of old age and concerns that the tree could no longer withstand high winds. Myron Johnson, assistant state park manager, said the park had been monitoring it for several years and the safety risks were mounting. Everyone had an affection for the tree, he said, and the park staff is sad that it had to come down.

There are few elms left here, as Dutch elm disease eradicated much of the population years ago. A century ago there were a lot more elms. Those that remain are mostly outside the woods and are periodically treated with fertilizer and pesticide to preserve their health. Jeff Dykehouse, state park curator of natural history, said the other elms are in a better shape than the one that was removed, but they are not as healthy as they were years ago.


Onlookers watch as Mackinac Island State Park staff cut branches of an elm tree at the corner of Marquette Park Thursday, March 15, to prepare for its removal. An adjacent elm tree that remains in the park is seen in the foreground. Onlookers watch as Mackinac Island State Park staff cut branches of an elm tree at the corner of Marquette Park Thursday, March 15, to prepare for its removal. An adjacent elm tree that remains in the park is seen in the foreground. Elms are not native to Mackinac Island but are still cared for because they have been present for more than a century, do not pose a risk to native species, and have become recognizable trees to residents and visitors. They were popular architectural trees across the United States, Mr. Dykehouse said, and often planted in lines, along streets and parks, as the elms in Marquette Park were. He hopes a new elm tree can be planted at the corner where the old one was removed, once the old stump is removed.

The elms are not the only trees in trouble here; the native sugar maples along Huron Road behind Fort Mackinac are also closely monitored.

Once a tree is designated as a possible hazard to public safety, it is watched by park staff and removed if necessary. The trees in Marquette Park are of special concern because of the high summer traffic. Two other mature elms are in the park, both along Fort Street. They may need to come down some day, but there are no plans to do so. Mr. Dykehouse said the location of the removed tree was especially precarious because the root system traveled underneath the pavement, where less water is available. He said this might have caused the tree to naturally spread more roots on the opposite side from the street, which would reduce the stability of the elm. This level of attention is not paid to the trees in the Island’s forests, unless the tree could possibly come down on a trail. In the forests, the park staff prefers to allow the trees to fall naturally.

Park visitors are asked to report any hazardous trees they encounter along the trails.

Protecting the elms from Dutch elm disease is done by inserting a series of tubes into the trunk that inject fertilizers and pesticides, and this was last performed in the spring of 2016. In addition, park staff is trained to identify and prune hazardous trees. The state park brings in an arborist from Davey Tree, a professional tree care company, as consultants at least every two years to reassess the tree population. An arborist here last fall advised that the tree was nearing the end of its life, and dying branches were falling at an increasing rate.

Before a disease treatment plan was started, the state park lost many elms in Marquette Park. The treatment is performed by Davey in the spring when the sap begins to rise, but before buds form on the branches. The pruning and year-around care is performed by trained park staff.

It is best to remove trees during the winter while the ground is still solid and there is less moisture in the trunk. Mr. Dykehouse said tree removal in the warmer seasons risks significant damage to the surrounding earth, as the tree might shift and lift out of the soil as it is cut down. In addition, the location adjacent to a paved street could have caused even more damage. The corner at Marquette Park is now bare, but the state park planted a new set of elms about a decade ago that could be used as replacements for the current population. New elm saplings are designed to be more resistant and won’t require as much attention to prevent Dutch elm disease.

The sugar maples behind Fort Mackinac have been pruned and treated on multiple occasions to prevent their removal. Mr. Dykehouse said this is a problem similar to Marquette Park, and the staff spends considerable time trying to preserve these trees. Eventually they will need to be removed, as they are old and will die if not cut down. He said these trees should be replaced with new sugar maples to preserve the appearance of Huron Road. The staff has avoided cutting down the trees by cutting branches instead to keep the trees from toppling over.

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