Community NewsEnvironmental

Counting the Rings: “T.C. Witness Tree” Tells the Rest of the Story

After the saws went quiet on September 2, 2020, the “Witness Tree” was chipped into little pieces. (Photo: Steve Gustafson)

ALEXANDRIA, VA – The T.C. Williams “Witness Tree” that garnered support throughout Alexandria is no more. Chainsawed to just a stump on September 2, 2020, citizens are still left asking questions about the process that brought it down and just how old was the tree?

How Old Was It?

John Marlin, the Alexandria City Arborist wouldn’t go on record with an exact age for the pin oak “due to the condition of the tree after its destruction” but this Zebra Press reporter did a count on-site and counted 52 rings, surmising its planting to be in the mid to late 1960s. As a point of reference, T. C. Williams High School initially opened its doors to eighth-graders, freshmen, sophomores, and juniors in 1965, and graduated its first class in June 1967.

A cross-section of the pin oak taken down to make way for the concession stand construction for the new Parker-Gray Stadium at Alexandria’s only public high school. (Photo: Steve Gustafson)

Chair and founder of The Environmental Council of Alexandria Andrew Macdonald spoke to Zebra about their efforts in determining the tree’s age saying, “Technically when estimating the age of a tree you calculate the diameter, you calculate the circumference, and you divide by pi. Then calculate the diameter and multiply that by the gross factor that arborists assign in a given region and you come with a number. An oak will grow at such and such a speed, all things being equal. That’s what we did although [there are] questions on how reliable that is but it tells you something but it’s not a tree ring.”

Macdonald continued, “An oak has a life expectancy of 100 to 150 years, 150 being on the outside of that and our [original] calculation came in around 130 years. When it comes to someone going and counting the rings, it’s hard to say and where to count. Do you count the ring at 4 1/2 feet above the ground? We looked at pictures and it was difficult to make out due to the cut but we counted 70 rings.”

The pin oak next to the T.C. WIlliams HS concession stand in August 2020. (Photo: Steve Gustafson)

Macdonald said, “The real story is [that] this was an older tree that had a lot of life left in it.”

In July, upon learning of the pin oak trees imminent destruction, protesters came to the tree’s defense and in response, Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) released the following statement:

“As with any complicated building project, various factors needed to be carefully considered to ensure a design and construction that would provide the very best facility possible for our students. During the initial design stages of the modernization of the Parker-Gray Stadium at T.C. Williams, consideration went into ways to be able to keep the oak tree near the current concession site and potentially build around it.”

Architects and the ACPS Office of Educational Facilities determined that due to the space constraints of the field and environmental concerns relating to storm management and water runoff there was no alternative site for the new concession stand.

T.C. Tree Removal Was Approved Two Years Ago

In October 2018, the issue of the tree was discussed during the Development Special Use Permit (DSUP) hearing before both the Planning Commission and City Council and both voted to support the DSUP and the plans for the modernization of the stadium as presented to both official bodies.

A city staff report issued at that time reads in part: “For the proposed new concession and restroom facilities, different options were explored in order to balance the applicant’s design objective of moving structures away from property lines as far as possible, with the additional objective to create a public gathering place with good on-site circulation…Initial designs tried to save a large tree, but the resulting layout removes the tree in order to place the buildings furthest east away from property lines.”

The City Council approved the Development Special Use Permit (DSUP) for this project in October 2018.

The fate of the tree resurfaced during the August 17th, 2020 Parker-Gray Stadium Information Meeting held virtually to update neighborhoods surrounding the site of upcoming work.

The scope of the T.C. Williams project includes a new concession building, a new restroom, and storage building, a new ticket booth, a new press box as well as the installation of a new rubberized track surface and a new synthetic athletic turf.

Work will begin as soon as the building permits are issued and is expected to conclude in February. The initial site work will include grading, utility trenching, and demolition.

For more information and site details, please refer to the T.C. Williams Parker-Gray Stadium page of the ACPS.

MORE: Tour the Taylor Run Project Where More Trees Are on the Chopping Block





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One Comment

  1. Just wish they hadn’t cut it down. Doesn’t seem right, couldnt they have just built around it? I think it was probably possible!

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