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Arborist assesses Ute Council Tree

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A professional arborist has been employed by the Delta County Historical Society to assess the health of the Ute Council Tree. Early this week, Gil Mitchell of Davey Tree Company got a close look at the tree, courtesy of a Delta-Montrose Electric Association bucket truck and crew.

Mitchell stretched a tape measure through an old wound on the north side of the tree, and it came out the opposite side, through a new wound sustained last week when a huge limb fell from the tree. Mitchell came from Denver to offer his expertise.

"We're trying to exhaust all options before we make a final decision on the fate of this very unique, very historical tree," said Keith Lucy, president of the board of directors of the Delta County Historical Society.

The Ute Council Tree belongs to the Delta County Historical Society by virtue of a quit claim deed many years ago from Ruth and Fred Wild, adjoining property owners.

The 215-year-old cottonwood is a tribute to Chief Ouray and his wife Chipeta, who strove to promote peace between the Utes and the white man. Chief Ouray met with white settlers under the tree. The site is not only a historical landmark, it's also said to be sacred to the Ute Indians. They, too, should be involved in a final decision about the tree, Lucy said. "This will be an expensive ordeal; all parties who have an interest in this should be involved," he said.

Mitchell said the tree is about 110 feet in height, with a canopy beginning about 70 feet up. The canopy is very healthy, he said; the question is whether the tree itself can be pruned to keep the mass centered and take weight off the sail, to reduce the risk of additional breakage.

When asked if maintenance would simply delay the inevitable, Mitchell said, "Everything you're doing now is buying time."

Board member Brad Davis observed that if the tree were in the middle of nowhere, it could be left to die a natural death. Unfortunately, the Ute Council Tree is surrounded by neighbors who have seen limbs fall from the tree on numerous occasions. As a historical landmark, it's also a local attraction and public safety must be considered.

Those factors, plus Mitchell's final report, will be discussed at an upcoming meeting of the Delta County Historical Society board. The final decision will be made by the entire board, Lucy said.

Wilma Erven, director of parks, recreation and golf for the City of Delta, last week reminded city council members that cuttings were taken from the tree and nurtured into seedlings for America's Historic Forests project. Seven of the seedlings were planted near the arbor in Confluence Park, to represent the seven bands of Utes. Wind destroyed one, but six still stand. The Utes also have clones of the tree, she added.

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