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'It will survive even this': Volunteers help rehab heritage tree hurt by ice storm

The Ellmaker Oak in Zumwalt Park is at least 350 years old. The December 2016 ice storm destroyed about 50 percent of the tree's structure, but the Friends of Zumwalt Park are working to help the tree live another century - or more. (SBG)

VENETA, Ore. - This white oak put down roots before the last 9.0 Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake struck the Pacific Northwest in 1700.

The tree towered over North America a century before the 13 original colonies declared their independence from England and took those first steps toward nationhood.

Its roots and branches quietly celebrated their sesquicentennial not long after Lewis and Clark crossed the continent.

As settlers blazed a path on the Oregon Trail, the tree stood sentry.

Oregon became a territory. Then a state.

The tree - known as the Ellmaker Oak, after the pioneer family who lived here before Fern Ridge Lake - still stands in what is now Zumwalt Park. It's the only Oregon Heritage Tree in the Lane County Park system.

And the tree will still stand a century from now, if the Friends of Zumwalt Park have anything to say about it.

"It's gone through a lot of different episodes in its life, and it's still going through episodes," arborist Matt Horowitz says, "but this tree deserves to remain."

The December 2016 ice storm begged to differ.

"The scatter pattern of all the limbs around, it looked like it had been bombed," says Megan Clark, a descendant of the pioneer Ellmaker family, "but really it was just the ice expanding and - boom."

Horowitz estimates the tree lost 50 percent of its structure in the ice storm.

But already there are new buds and limbs reaching for spring sunshine.

"The tree's going to dedicate some energy probably to putting more limbs out this year," Horowitz says. "My prediction is this tree's got easily another hundred years left in it, if not more."

So the Friends of Zumwalt Park dutifully work to rehab the old tree.

"You can't take it down," Clark says. "It will survive even this."

And if Horowitz is correct, the Ellmaker Oak will outlive all of us now alive, save but the tiniest of newborns yearning to grow beneath that same spring sun.

Surrounded by 74 acres of county park, the tree abides.

"The tree is telling us a story," Horowitz says, "if we listen to it."

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