Hollow Tree Dilemma

Admit it.  Most of us, at one point or another, have hugged a tree.  Even more of us have climbed a tree, studied a tree, painted a tree, or read under a tree.  But, unless you’ve visited the CVEEC, I doubt most of you have been INSIDE a tree.

At the end of the resident program each week, instructors teach a class called Watershed Walk.  This is a class where the kids reflect on their favorite parts of the week at camp.  Many mention the trek up and down the 121 log stairs and the night hike, most mention the silly songs and the food, and almost all mention their trip inside the hollow tree.

Student emerges from the hollow tree.

The hollow tree has been on campus long before I’ve worked here.  Although we do not know for sure how the tree became hollow, popular theory predicts that the tree was struck by lightning.  Ever since, insects have been hard at work making the opening larger, creating a pile of wood dust at the bottom of the tree.

Teaching staff at the EEC take their students to the tree each week because it’s an awesome place to explore.  The opening is big enough for most people to fit inside; as long as you’re flexible and not claustrophobic.  I’ve seen hundreds of middle school students stand up inside of the tree, a few petit teachers, and even Jared, a 6 foot plus tall field instructor intern from 2010. 

Two boys explore the hollow tree. Will they fit inside?

Although I’ve never been inside the tree myself, (I’m definitely too claustrophobic), I spoke with several others who have in fact been all the way inside the tree.  Zack, a field instructor intern, explained, “The first time I went inside the tree I got stuck like Whinnie the Pooh.  But, on my second attempt I was able to get inside and sit up.  It’s very dark in there.  You can get a pretty good idea of what it would be like to be a squirrel.”  Mike, the weekend host, said, “It’s awesome!  It’s kind of like being in a cave.  The tree is hollow as far up as my flashlight beam can reach.  It definitely looks like a great place for animals to live, but since we have hundreds of middle school students going inside it each week, I doubt anything actually does.”

Student INSIDE the hollow tree!

The hollow tree is a great place to explore, it’s a great place to teach, and the coolest part– the tree is still alive!  …but for how long?

Because so many people visit the tree on a weekly basis, we are starting to be concerned with soil compacting.  Compact soil occurs where the soil particles are squished so close together that there are few air gaps between them.  Soil compacting is most commonly associated with farm land because, with increasingly heavier farm machinery, soil is being compacted around crops when the tractors drive.  Although we don’t have tractors at the EEC, thousands of feet walking on the same patch of soil will eventually have the same effect.

Why is soil compaction a problem?  Less air space in the soil means less water can be absorbed.  Water runs off over the ground, causing flooding, but also making it harder for the plants in the soil to absorb all the nutrients they need.  When roots cannot absorb the oxygen and water they need, plants begin to express drought-like symptoms, even when there is plenty of rain water!

So what do we do?  Do we stop taking kids to the tree to help protect it?  Or, do we keep taking kids to the tree, knowing that eventually the tree will die.  There really is no good answer to this hollow tree dilemma.  Feel free to post a comment with your thoughts.

We explore the hollow tree in the winter too!

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