Leesburg's tree commission has recommended that the town not replace dying dogwood trees in the Route 15 bypass median and instead plant a mixture of trees on interchanges where they would face a better chance of survival.
A citizens committee raised $80,000 and planted 405 Kousa dogwoods in the median as a town beautification project in 1999. But city officials say some of the trees have been damaged and even killed by strong winds from trucks and salt and sand from the road that has degraded the soil around their roots.
"It's not a site for dogwoods, and I love dogwoods," tree commission representative R. Max Peterson told the Town Council at its work session Monday night.
Leesburg urban forester Jay Banks said 200 of the trees have died. But Ben Lawrence, president of the now-defunct citizens Dogwood Committee, said 34 trees died in the first year and were replaced. He said that only three have died since and that all were hit by cars.
Banks said the dogwoods are difficult and expensive to maintain. He recommended that the Town Council adopt the tree commission's proposal to concentrate on planting trees on the interchanges because plans to widen the bypass would require removing some trees from the median.
Lawrence said the tree commission and Banks had approved planting Kousa dogwoods, the hardiest type of dogwood. Banks said he never recommended that the committee plant dogwoods in the median.
"When you name your committee the dogwood committee, you're locked into one kind of tree," said Banks, who became Leesburg's urban forester in 1997 and is certified by the International Society of Arboriculture. "My recommendations were to reduce the number of trees and not to plant all of one species."
Why the dogwood committee? The American dogwood is Virginia's state tree, Lawrence said. The group of about 15 citizens held a dogwood ball at the Leesburg Executive Airport hangar where revelers could sponsor a tree. The committee raised $80,000 from the ball and from local businesses, and used it to buy the trees, plant them and maintain them for one year.
Before it planted the trees, the committee entered into a contract with the town in which Leesburg agreed to take over maintenance a year after the trees had been planted.
Lawrence said the trees would have lived had the town paid more attention to them.
"You can't put the trees in the ground and walk away from them. They're like babies," said Lawrence, visibly distressed. "The people who paid for that, they paid for it . . . because they thought it was a beautiful thing." Lawrence said he called the town on multiple occasions, but "we couldn't get anyone to water them."
Banks said the town put 30,000 gallons of water onto the trees last summer.
But Town Manager Robert S. Noe acknowledged that Leesburg could have spent more money and energy to coddle the trees. He said the trees died from lack of nurturing and road toxins.
"We have given the dogwoods attention when we have had attention to give them," he said. "It was a big event in the life of the town, and I think there were visions of beautiful dogwoods along the bypass."