Castle Valley Comments: Feb. 27, 2020

This cottonwood tree in Castle Valley is one of the oldest and largest in Utah. The Castle Valley Town Council took steps to protect it from encroachment at a recent meeting. Photo courtesy of Ron Drake
This cottonwood tree in Castle Valley is one of the oldest and largest in Utah. The Castle Valley Town Council took steps to protect it from encroachment at a recent meeting. Photo courtesy of Ron Drake

The Castle Valley Town Council held its regular monthly meeting Wednesday, Feb. 19 and discussed several items of business that were on the agenda.

During the road report it was announced that Mike Souza was hired as an equipment operator for the road department. He replaces Josh Pike, who resigned as of the end of January. Also during the meeting, Diane Ackerman was appointed to be Castle Valley’s representative to the Grand County Solid Waste Special Service District. She replaced Stephanie Hamborsky of Moab who moved from the area.

During the water agent’s report, John Groo stated that a property owner who is a member of the Castle Valley Irrigation Company wants to leave the irrigation company. Groo said the property owner wants to apply for a change application, which is to take the water rights with him and transfer the rights to underground water.

Ron Drake

Groo said he is concerned about the precedence that will be set and not about the amount of water involved. On behalf of the town he filed an official notice of protest with the State Division of Water Rights. “We must be vigilant in protecting the aquifer,” Groo said.

The annual town letter, which is sent to the town residents by the mayor will be sent out within the next two to three weeks, according to Mayor Jazmine Duncan. She assigned the letter-writing task to the road department Manager Mingo Gritts this year to give a report on the town’s roads. The council will review the letter during the next several weeks before it gets sent out to residents.

The large Fremont cottonwood tree, which is located at the corner of Castle Valley Drive and Castle Creek Lane was the subject of conversation during the meeting. It is thought to be partly in the road easement and if that is the case the council approved writing a resolution to protect the tree and leave it alone. A survey will be done to determine exactly where the tree resides in relation to the road. The landmark cottonwood tree was determined to be the largest Fremont cottonwood tree in the state of Utah and the second largest in the nation, according to International Society of Arboriculture-certified arborist Johnny Atkin.

Atkin, president of Atlas Tree Service of Salt Lake City and his crew were working in the valley four years ago when they noticed the cottonwood tree on their way to their job site and they were convinced that they were looking at a potential state champion Fremont Cottonwood. Atkin and employee Angel Lopez, also a certified arborist, took the time out from their job to measure the tree and they realized that it was, indeed, the largest tree in the state.

They sent a nomination form to register it with the Utah Division of Forest, Fire and State Lands, which maintains the Utah register of big trees.

The previous state champion, which was perceived to be the state’s largest cottonwood tree, was located on the Brigham Young University campus in Provo and was measured in 1990. That tree was taller than our tree, standing at 94 feet, compared to about 80 feet for our tree, but our tree has a trunk circumference of 515 inches and a crown spread average of 104 feet, far more than the BYU tree, which has a point value of 596 compared to the Castle Valley tree with a point value of 621. Atkins and his crew later climbed all over the tree and found it to be in good health.

Atkins estimates our tree to be at least 200 years old and said he wouldn’t be surprised if it was even older. He used as a comparison a tree in Salt Lake City that he takes care of that has been documented as being planted in 1859 at the request of Brigham Young. That tree is much smaller and is growing in similar conditions.

The Castle Valley Fire Department responded to a report of a chimney fire at 325 Keogh Lane last Wednesday, Feb. 19. The owner said black smoke and flames were coming out of the chimney and he restricted the dampers on the stove, which slowed the fire and eventually put it out. The fire department inspected the attic of the home and found no structural damage. The chimney was cleaned late last fall before the stove was used for the winter.