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January 17th, 2007 Kyle Cassidy | News Stories
 

Sitka Spruce

If a tree falls in the forest...save this "pre-obituary."

     
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When word comes that a public figure is ailing, newsrooms prepare an obituary for the impending death.

But what to do if that figure could live another umpteen years before toppling over and none of us remains to read the obit? That may be the case with the 206-foot Sitka spruce, an Oregon tourist attraction that officials say is on its last roots. Rather than wait indefinitely for the tree just east of Seaside to die, we present this "pre-obituary" for when the spruce—the largest in the nation—actually takes a tumble.

Oregon's much-beloved Sitka spruce, known to friends as the Klootchy Creek Giant, will always be remembered as "a part of Oregon," says big-tree hunter Maynard Drawson.

Sprouting an estimated 750 years ago, the giant spruce began ascending to its eventual height of 206 feet sometime during the Mongol empire. Coastal Indians were the tree's only human companions for centuries, until white pioneers came on foot in the late 19th century, then motorists came on minivan in the mid-20th century.

As many as 100,000 visitors a year pulled off nearby Highway 26 to the Oregon Coast to check out the behemoth.

But the tree was ailing as far back as 50 years ago, when lightning first tore its side open and left a spiral scar 20 feet long and 18 inches wide. That caused the tree to stoop but not fall. Then, in December 2006, fierce windstorms tore away a chunk of its trunk, revealing a rotting interior.

The danger of its falling prompted local officials to require visitors to stand 165 feet away from the tree, whose trunk had grown to a circumference of 56 feet.

Perhaps the fondest memories of the spruce came from Drawson, a retired Salem barber who in 1997 helped the giant become the state's first Heritage Tree, a designation aimed at increasing public awareness about trees' contribution to Oregon history.

Drawson, who has written five books about Oregon and has a meatloaf named after him at a Salem cafe, lamented in 2007: "That tree to me is the end of my world. When the tree goes down, I'll be gone."

Drawson also recalled how in the 1940s, Clarence Richen, a logger for the Crown Zellerbach Corp., persuaded company owners to spare the tree for posterity.

"That was a miracle," Drawson sighs.

 
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