The City of Hillsboro has directed its Public Works Department to work with the Old Orenco neighbors and property owners to do everything possible to save the historic grove of Elm Trees from being destroyed by Dutch Elm Disease. The trees, which were placed on the Oregon Heritage Tree Program in 2013, are now 110 years old and have lined the old-time streets of Orenco for longer than anyone can remember. Anyone who visits the old City of Orenco just South of the MAX light Rail at Century Blvd. will immediately appreciate the towering giants. In Fall they are a stunning yellow putting on a real color show. In Spring they welcome the Falcons and Evening Grossbeaks who come to nest and feed every year, not to mention the squirrels and coons that live in the massive connected canopy. By Summer the canopy is so big and the shade provided so great that locals enjoy lower temperatures they most other areas of our City.
The trees are magical. I had the pleasure to grow up in Orenco and to live there now- we always said that the air was fresher in Orenco thanks to the trees. We call the 9 block disincorporated City “The Shire” with the Elms playing the role of the giant Tree Ents; they protect us from harm and watch over us. It is a magical thing to walk among them and anyone who has done that already knows what I am trying to explain!
Here is a video I shot a decade ago in Fall showcasing the Elms of Orenco
This Summer we saw the arrival of Dutch Elm Disease; a killer that when it is done lays waste to entire groves of Elms. In fact, the disease is so bad that most parks, Universities, neighborhoods, and forests where the Elms have been attacked have not survived. In 2013 when Orenco Neighborhood Association leader Bonnie Kooken (RIP Bonnie) succeeded in leading the neighborhood in getting the Orenco Elms placed on the Heritage Tree Program, it was noted the trees were one of the largest groves left in America. The disease had spared the trees for over 100 years at that time. That is no longer true and something must be done or the coveted community will lose perhaps its most identifiable historic asset.
Enter the City of Hillsboro who now is playing the role of hero for the trees and the community. One tree has been cut down that was clearly dying after testing in June proved that Dutch Elm, playing the role of Grim Reaper, had arrived. It can spread like wildfire and if nothing is done to stop it a grove of trees like this one could be gone within 5 years. They say all good things must end in time but not if the arborists and Hillsboro Public Works can stop it. A notice went out to the community that inoculations were being done on 108 trees and that it was happening immediately. Today we witnessed this delicate process happening as workmen from NW Tree Services drilled small holes near the base of an Elm off of Alder Street and injected the tree with a shot to try and stop the killer.
Treating and Orenco Elm by virtue of a Vaccine if you will- we sure hope that will work!
The City letter included concise information about what they are doing and the plan itself is comprehensive and bold. We know so many people appreciate this immediate action because no one else can do it and the property owners who have the trees in their right of way simply can not afford it.
Letter sent to residents by the City of Hillsboro- 2021
The first tree that reached terminal status had to come down, and it is just South of the Orenco Mercantile, a local icon. It was something to see the arborists working 100 feet up and slowly lowering the chunks and limbs. The remains can not be reused and have to be taken to a special location to be destroyed lest the spores of the disease spread to other groves and other trees.
Click on the images to expand
One tree can cost up to $10,000 dollars to remove. What the future holds and how far the City can go with this level of help is unknown, but the locals and those who appreciate trees and these ancient beauties are ever so grateful. Let’s all hope the inoculations stem the problems and stop the spread. We will certainly know a lot more next year.
In 1911 The Oregonian announced the City Of Orenco had planted these Elms-
Here is a photo in about 1915 when the Elms were in their youth.
The wooden sidewalks were built on every street and the elms existed in a planter strip. This shot actually has the tree that was cut in it. Just left of the sidewalk where it ends is the tree. Seen here is the Orenco Mercantile (left) Oregon Electric Railways Station (Center-one level), above that the Oregon Nursery Company Office (now Cherry Street), the to right of that the Orenco Drug Company/Hospital and home of Dr. W.B. Cunningham, and mid-right a typical Orenco craftsman home on Birch Street (still there today). (Photo provided by Dirk Knudsen, Private Collection).
We will keep you all informed about the fate of the Orenco Elms. They are a very special grove of trees, not only for their grouping and location but because of what they represent about this very historical area and the people who worked so hard to make it special. Thanks to the City of Hillsboro and everyone working to allow them to live on!
Looking South on NE 67th from Alder Street. Elm Grove, Summer of 2021, Orenco, Oregon