A trio of old oaks are coming down this week in front of the Hotel Finial.
The three trees stand just outside the Anniston hotel’s fence, casting shade onto the six lanes of Quintard Avenue just south of the 17th Street intersection. Chad Coleman, co-owner of Ohatchee company Coleman Tree Service, said Monday that the trees are probably more than a century old and stand over 100 feet tall.
But the trees are dying.
“All these storms, one tree lost a big limb that tore away from one of the trees we’re cutting,” Coleman said. “They’ve become a hazard. They’ve got a lot of dead in them.”
The hotel’s general manager, Jacob Craig, said the owners, state Sen. Del Marsh and his wife, Ginger, had decided to remove the trees for safety’s sake.
“We had a storm a while back that took down a large limb pretty close to Quintard, which would have been pretty catastrophic if it had landed in the road,” Craig said. “They’re wanting to try and prune back some of those dead limbs and stuff and make it a safer place for everyone.”
Cutting down the trees will take a few days, Coleman said, thanks to the flow of traffic on Quintard. Limbs will be cinched up before they’re cut, then lowered to the ground instead of letting them drop, to keep them off the road or the hotel fence. Four big vehicles — including a bucket truck — will also have to park on the highway. One of the trees has a 50-foot limb stretched over the highway like an arm around a friend’s shoulders.
“It’s ginormous,” Coleman said. “It’s a tree in itself.”
The middle and right lanes of southbound Quintard will be closed sometime this week while the crew works, Coleman predicted, possibly by Tuesday.
“There’s thousands of cars that come up and down that we have to maneuver around and everything,” Coleman said. “And it’s right on a danger area, with a lot of hard slope cutting and rigging.”
Anniston residents have long dedicated time and money to beautifying Quintard Avenue, the city’s main thoroughfare. In 1944 the city’s religious groups worked together to plant 240 trees along the roadway, including dogwoods and redbud trees. Meanwhile, trees citywide have been negatively affected by drought in the last few years, like in 2017, when about 20 were marked as safety hazards and brought down.
According to Hayes Jackson, an agent of the Calhoun County Extension Office, oak trees can live more than a thousand years, if nothing kills them. But drought like the one Alabama experienced last year can suck the vitality from trees, making them an easy mark for bugs and microscopic invaders, even in spite of this year’s deluge of rain.
“The drought put a lot of trees in distress, and they’re just like people — when we get stressed we’re more apt to get sick,” Jackson explained. “Having that drought stressed so many trees that would normally be able to fight off pathogens and fungal issues. When they're stressed they’re not able to do that.”
Jackson said he was standing in a pine grove when he spoke by phone Monday, a patch of evergreen trees killed by pine beetles. The winter months should have driven the beetles to ground, but those months were mild, and their population hadn’t been curbed as he’d hoped. The drought-thirsty trees aren’t capable of resisting.
“We have an outbreak of pine beetles in Alabama,” Jackson said. “We’re still here talking about the flu and pandemics and they’re kind of seasonal; it’s the same way with hot, dry weather in the summer, when pine beetles spread.”
Craig, the Finial’s general manager, said he didn’t know of any plans to put new foliage in the place of the old trees. He was confident the hotel’s owners would ensure the place looked nice, though.
“They’re always going to make sure they keep the property up, especially being such a historic property,” Craig said.