State of Our Trees

Ongoing Group Effort to Ensure the Health and Beauty of Aiken’s Treasured Trees

There is no doubt about it — the residents of Aiken and its surrounding communities love the City’s trees. Fortunately, through the combined efforts and financial contributions by Aiken Streetscapes, Aiken Land Conservancy, and the City of Aiken, major steps towards preserving and protecting our trees are underway.

Undergrounding Lines to Eliminate Unsightly Tree Cutting

“South Boundary lined with its huge like oaks is the most iconic image of Aiken,” Dacre Stoker, Aiken Streetscapes Executive Director confirms. He explains that work required on those trees is critical. “The only way to save those trees from aggressive utility cuts, is to move the power lines underground,” he says. He emphasizes that cutting trees that interfere with power lines is a state mandated right of power companies and the municipalities have absolutely nothing to do with it.

Lex Kirkland, Public Services Director for the City of Aiken, concurs. “The city often takes heat for the trimming of our trees that is done by other entities. We want the residents to understand that we are as proud of the trees as they are.”

The very expensive process of ground boring or undergrounding the power lines that run on top of the live oaks is already underway. The section of South Boundary from Charleston Street to Williamsburg is complete and the remaining section, from Williamsburg to Whiskey Road, is prepped. “We are simply waiting for manpower,” Dacre notes.

Once the ground boring is complete, Bartlett Tree Experts will bring a large crew to prune and treat all the trees along South Boundary. “This is a huge initiative by ALC, Streetscapes
and the City of Aiken,” Dacre emphasizes. “All of them have contributed money to make this happen.” The total bill for the South Boundary tree project is $305,000.

Grand Trees Abound Throughout Aiken

While South Boundary’s trees may be the most widely recognized in Aiken, Dacre strongly believes they are not the only ones of importance. There are many mature pines and oaks along Colleton Avenue, East Boundary Avenue, Berkley Street, Beaufort Street, Orangeburg Street, and Marlboro Street that are in danger of being butchered in the process of utility cuts. Dominion has presented a quote to ground bore the power lines in these areas. This project is planned for early next year and will be a public/private initiative as the City and Dominion are contributing some funding in addition to $105,000 pledged by Streetscapes.

According to Dacre, over the next 20 years, the City of Aiken hopes to ground bore the entire downtown area. But he cautions that while the power lines will be underground, telephone and cable lines will remain. However, unlike Dominion, AT&T and Atlantic Broadband do not have a state mandate allowing them to drastically cut trees. “We will still see power lines for telephone and cable, but we won’t see unsightly cutting,” he clarifies.

Promoting Tree City USA Designation

Over the course of many years, Bob McCartney of Woodlanders has introduced hundreds of varieties of oaks throughout Aiken. “Throughout the city we have one of the best collections of oaks in the world and most folks don’t realize how rare they are,” says Lex. Streetscapes is providing the funding to have the city-wide arboretum better documented. “Aiken has been deemed a Tree City USA for 30 years,” Dacre says proudly. He believes having more readily available information on the trees will help promote tourism in Aiken.

Plant the Right Tree in the Right Place

Laura Bagwell, Secretary of the Aiken Land Conservancy, says it can seem paradoxical – the notion of Aiken being a Tree City whose residents are so frequently shocked and angered by utility pruning. She applauds the City’s work – cataloging grand trees, replanting in parkways, and creating a tree succession plan – but notes that property owners, too, must understand and accept the responsibilities of tree ownership.

“The mature trees that attract new buyers to older neighborhoods can create problems when utility crews come through with bucket trucks and chain saws. Suddenly the beautiful magnolia or old oak tree that so drew you to your property is a lopsided mess.” She credits City Horticulturist Aaron Campbell with explaining, “A key concept in balancing the desirability of large trees vs. the pruning rights of utility companies is to plant the right tree in the right place. Maintain low shrubs or groundcover near overhead lines and plant larger specimen trees well away from utility corridors.”

Additionally, even in neighborhoods without underground power, property owners can follow the City’s example and have their own electrical service buried from the street to their homes. Doing so will not only minimize the likelihood of future utility pruning, but it may also protect your property from damage during inclement weather.