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Walkers enjoying Sunday's sunshine walk among dead pines bordering E. Scenic Drive in Sorisis Park in The Dalles. Removal of the trees was slated to begin Monday.

Work has begun on an aggressive new round of tree removal at Sorosis Park, focusing on 100-plus trees at the front of the park along Scenic Drive, a park official said.

It is the latest effort to combat a pine bark beetle infestation that has been killing the park’s pine trees for a number of years now. The park has hundreds of trees.

Scott Baker, executive director of Northern Wasco County Parks and Recreation District, said, “It will seem to folks as a drastic measure, but smaller cuttings have not been successful.”

He said, “This time, we’re going big. They’re dead and dying and several fell down in this last windstorm, so it’s a hazard and it needs to be addressed. If we hope to save any pines, we need to be more aggressive than we’ve been.”

In the last removal, in February 2019, the parks district removed over 55 trees, but it is clear that more aggressive efforts need to be taken, Baker said.

“Some work has been done every year and it’s just heartbreaking to cut year after year,” he said. “You think you’re being aggressive when you cut 55 trees out but the beetles have gone to another area and it just devastates you.”

He said, “I know people care about Sorosis as deeply as we do. But most folks who care are very pragmatic, you have to make the tough decision.”

The parks district has worked with the Oregon Department of Forestry to identify diseased trees and develop a management plan. “We are so inundated with the pine bark beetle and the black scale that our only option now is to aggressively cut tees that may look alive now, but are infested,” Baker said.

Some trees are “the standing dead,” he said. “Some are completely browned out but on others only the tops are dead, and that’s a sure thing they’ve been infested with the pink bark beetle.” 

Portions of the park, including the walking trail, will be closed during the work, which is set to finish by the end of September. 

The work will be done most days between 6 a.m. and 1 p.m., and Baker encouraged regular park users to shift their park visit to evening hours, or to walk on the Riverfront Trail instead.

Timberman Inc. of Parkdale, the same company that felled infested pine trees at St. Mary’s Academy in The Dalles, will do the work, and is doing it for the value of the lumber harvested, Baker said. No cash will change hands. The park district will be responsible for cleanup and chipping limbs and will also be in charge of stump removal.

The parks district has felled about six trees over the past few months that were in danger of falling on Tree Top Play Park.

While portions of the walking trail around the park will be closed during the work, Baker said Tree Top Play Park will largely remain open. “There may be a day or two that we will have to close it.”

The parks district has purposely not irrigated the area where the work will be done to ensure the ground is as hard as possible, to protect the irrigation system below ground. Provided the irrigation system is not damaged during the work, the browned grass will green up again once irrigation resumes, Baker said.

After over 55 trees were taken out in early 2019, “It’s startling how many oaks are there,” Baker said of that area of the park. “It’s really quite beautiful. Our plan is to cut these infested trees out like a cancer in a hope to protect the strongest ones to get ahead of it. Then we will see what irrigation remains and repair that and replant.

“It’s a couple year process, it might look worse before it looks better, but ultimately this is the best thing to do for the park long term.”

The parks district has cut about 110 trees since Baker arrived in 2016, and a few were cut before that, he said.

Timberman will sell the lumber to SDS Lumber Company in Bingen, Baker said, and how much work gets done will depend on how much lumber is purchased.

The sale of the trees will partially offset the cost of this project but will not completely cover it, Baker said. Meanwhile, 26 percent of the parks district’s budget comes from hotel taxes, “which are just in the tank, so we’re having huge budget losses at a time when our parks are being used more than ever.”

The district has had to remove trashcans because they were getting filled with household trash, he said. Remaining trash cans that previously were emptied once a week are being emptied three times a week, and they’re still overflowing.

Even with the sad news of cutting trees, Baker said there’s good news coming out of the parks district also. The refurbishment of the Vogt Fountain in the Rose Garden is well underway, and irrigation repairs have happened in other parts of the park. New exercise equipment has been installed in the park.

The district also raised $278,000 to repair and reseal eight miles of the Riverfront Trail. “That project’s been going great. The Riverfront Trail is a real hidden gem for this community,” Baker said.

The eight-mile stretch is from the Discovery Center to the marina.

“That trail’s been there 30 years and this is a major resurfacing and repair effort to protect it for another 20 or 30 years,” he said.

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