Seniors get a new tree
It’s been a rough year for the trees on El Dorado Hills thoroughfares, with stalwart sentries on El Dorado Hills Boulevard and Francisco Drive either struck down by disease or condemned for the crime of busting buried water pipes.
The most recent victim was the landmark Christmas tree that towered above the El Dorado Hills Senior Center. The Deodara Cedar that dominated the southwest corner of Lassen Lane and El Dorado Hills Boulevard suffered a mysterious and ultimately fatal illness earlier this year, becoming a safety hazard before it was cut down.
The Senior Center is the original home of the El Dorado Hills Fire District, which continues to take great pride in its seasonal décor. Decorating the cedar became one of many firefighter holiday traditions in recent years, according to Chief Dave Roberts.
For the last dozen-or-so years, firefighters have painstakingly draped strings of lights between the prominent boughs, using the ladder truck to access the farthest branches, accentuating the tree’s natural shape in imitation of the Christmas scenes depicted by Thomas Kinkade, a Placerville schoolmate of former Fire Chief Brian Veerkamp.
“Having that tree decorated in front of the old firehouse means a lot,” said Veerkamp in a 2009 interview, “especially to the men and women who have to work the holidays.”
The county owns the senior center and its trees in partnership with the El Dorado Hills Community Services District, which staffs it. Due to budgetary constraints, county Parks and Grounds members were planning to replace the 40-foot Goliath with a David-sized starter, 6 feet tall at most, said Roberts.
Not so fast there.
Not wanting any of the fire district’s holiday traditions to lapse on his watch, Roberts asked the district’s charitable arm, the Firefighters Foundation, if they’d pick up the cost of adding an additional 20-or-so feet to the replacement tree.
“They were happy to do it,” said Roberts, who’s also vice president of the foundation.
The resulting Coastal Redwood cost $1,780 and arrived via flatbed truck shortly after 10 a.m. Friday. The county’s entire Parks and Grounds Department — all five of them — plus two part-time inmate laborers arrived early and dug a 10-foot square hole, 5 feet deep.
Senior Groundskeeper Marshall Seaborn couldn’t remember ever planting anything this size, but orchestrated the installation like he does it every day.
A crane plucked the tree off the truck and dropped the crated root ball in its new home per Seaborn’s instructions. His team scrambled in and out of the hole leveling the tree and breaking off the crate.
The base of the tree will eventually host a small flower garden with a stone border. The existing lawn sprinklers should provide adequate water for the tree and the additional landscaping, according to Seaborn.
For his efforts the county’s chief groundskeeper was invited to appear in the ground-breaking photo. He replaced his dirty spade with a gold painted ceremonial model and stood beside Roberts, EDHCSD General Manager Brent Dennis, District 1 supervisor-in-waiting Ron Mikulaco and Fire Captain Dave Brady.
Afterward Seaborn explained that county budget cuts have limited his department to five people, responsible for maintaining all the county parks and several historic cemeteries. They’ve reduced services across the board, and have also cut back on the number and size of trees they plant, which made the opportunity to plant a 25-plus-foot Coastal Redwood, technically a Sequoia Sempri Virnes Blue Aptos, something special, he said.
“They do great here, and this is a healthy specimen,” he added with a touch of pride.
County grounds supervisor Thomas Delange was charged with selecting the tree from Norman’s Nursery in Linden. He said he looked hard for one with a classic Christmas tree shape. His choice went in the ground roughly 100 feet south of its predecessor.
The original corner location was too close to water, sewer and electrical pipes, said Roberts. The soil in the corner location is also suspect. Adjacent trees appear to be blighted.
Dennis is a landscape architect by trade. He commended the choice of location. “It’s got room to grow here and it’s a much healthier setting,” he said. “Plus it was competing with the building’s tower before. From here it complements the architecture.”
El Dorado Hills resident Joanne Keller arrived early for meat loaf day at the senior lunch, and to see the new Redwood tucked in. “It’s a gorgeous tree, and I thank every one of the firefighters who helped pay for it,” she said.
El Dorado Hills Senior Council Chair Yvonne Griffin, who just turned a youngish 75, recalled her disappointment when she learned that the statuesque cedar might be replaced with a 6-footer.
“We were hoping for something big enough to decorate,” she said. “If I had to wait 20 years … it would be me in the hole.”
Senior Center Supervisor Janet Kenneweg reflected on the late Moni Gilmore, a former Fire Board member and the driving force behind the Senior Center that now bears her name.
“Moni must be smiling down on us right now,” from beneath the wide brim of one of her trademark hats. “Her boys made sure there’s a Christmas tree outside her senior center.”