Large shade trees at Lions Park mistakenly cut down as overhaul of park begins

After years of planning, the long anticipated overhaul of Lion’s Park began last week. But construction got off to a rocky start after several large trees that had been marked for protection were mistakenly cut down on Tuesday March 31.

Moab City Community Development Director and Urban Forester David Olsen said the mistake resulted in the removal of several mature Fremont cottonwoods, as well as mulberry trees.

“The plans identified those trees to be protected,” Olsen told The Times-Independent.

Moab City Public Works Director Jeff Foster said the mistake occurred when the architect accidentally left a sheet off the demolition plans that indicated the trees should be saved. The plans were developed using computer aided drafting (CAD) software.

“The way they read the demolition sheet, all the trees were supposed to come out,” Olsen said.

“The demolition plans showed the removal of all the trees except the trees located north of the lower parking lot,” Olsen said. “The architect forgot to turn on the ‘protection layer’ [on the CAD software] for the demolition plans.”

“It was a combination of the architect and the contractor,” Foster said. “They made a bad call.”

Foster said he was headed out of town Tuesday morning when he saw that the trees had been removed.

“We were all devastated when we found out about it,” he said. “But it was too late to do anything by the time we found out.”

Representatives from the Utah Division of Facilities Construction and Management (DFCM), a division of the Utah Department of Transportation, and the architect in charge of the project have promised to do whatever they can to make up for the mistake, Olsen said.

“There’s no way to replace trees like that,” Foster said. “But I’m sure they’ll do just about anything they need to in order to mitigate the problem.”

DFCM officials said the mistake is “unfortunate.”

“It’s really an unfortunate situation anytime you lose a mature tree,” Marilee Richins, the public information officer for DFCM said. “We’re going to do everything we can to make it up to the people of Moab.”

Olsen has agreed to review the landscaping plans to see if more trees could be placed in the park to help make up for the loss.

“We also discussed the size of trees to be placed and the timing for the placement of the trees,” Olsen said. “After reviewing the plans, I think we can take advantage of the offer to plant more trees in the park.”

Richins said her agency is working with the city “to determine what kind of trees are best suited to go in as replacements.”

“We want to bring in big trees, but we want them to be healthy,” she said.

“It looks like we will put in more trees than were removed.”

The city had planned to use the trees for shade coverage at the park for the next five to 10 years while newly planted trees and plants matured, Foster said.

“When they pulled them out, the roots were all dry-rotted, so they may not have lasted as long as we would have liked,” he said.

Olsen concurred.

“All the trees had substantial root rot and were structurally unsound. Termites and carpenter ants have been doing their part to decompose the trees,” he said. “The tree trunks were hollow.”

Olsen said city officials were upset and saddened by the loss of the trees, but he noted that the cottonwoods were approaching the end of their lifespan.

“There are few trees as noble and graceful as old Fremont cottonwood trees,” he said. “However, in a park setting they pose greater hazards with breaking and falling heavy limbs than other trees. The Fremont cottonwoods were gradually dying and becoming a greater hazard. Sooner or later, we would have had to make the hard decision to remove them.”

ByBy Laura Haley

Contributing Writer