WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – Many consider one of the most beautiful stretches of road in Wilmington to be Market Street between 17th and 21st streets because of its large canopy of Oak trees.
The old trees are certainly impressive, but they're also hazardous. The driver of a car that was hit by a falling limb earlier this month knows that all too well.
The future of those trees is becoming a topic of conversation for local leaders.
"I happened to be within three blocks of that accident," said Wilmington City Council member Charlie Rivenbark. "It really made an impression on me."
The driver walked away unharmed, but visibly shaken.
"It's not the optimum place for trees to be growing," Rivenbark said. "They were put there when people were driving horse and buggies."
The Historic Wilmington Foundation is pushing a plan to save the Oak tree canopy by replenishing missing and dying trees with Live Oaks, instead of Laurel Oaks.
Foundation Director George Edwards said Live Oaks are much heartier trees, and they're less likely come crashing down.
"The majestic tree canopy throughout our historic district is one of the defining characteristics, and certainly this avenue of oaks is just incomparable," Edwards said. "We need to protect it and save it."
He said about 40 trees would be needed to replenish the canopy, which would cost about $6,500. Removing dying trees and maintaining the new ones would significantly increase the overall cost of the project.
Rivenbark agrees that the trees are beautiful, but he said his foremost concern is safety. He's requested an inventory from city staffers of which trees need pruning, and he expects to have that list later this week. In the long term, when one of the Oak trees needs to be replaced, Rivenbark thinks the City of Wilmington should at least consider planting something smaller.
"I think it would be a shame if 50 years from now Market Street is lined with crepe myrtles, instead of those grand old Oaks, but you have to be realistic."
The Department of Transportation would like to keep, and even extend, the canopy of trees along the stretch of Market Street. Edwards said the DOT has encouraged the City of Wilmington to apply for a beautification grant that would cover most of the costs.
But City Council members will get the chance to weigh in. They could make a decision on how to proceed as early as their next City Council meeting on August 7th.
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