The smell of sawdust rode the uptown wind Monday like incense from a funeral. You could smell it for blocks.
By day’s end, some of the giant oaks that for decades had towered over the city’s federal courthouse had been reduced to oversized stumps and logs.
The trees, among the tallest and oldest in downtown Charlotte, have been under care for more than seven years. In December, the decision was made that five of the seven hardwoods forming the canopy around the city’s oldest government building had become too big a risk to passing cars and pedestrians at Mint and West Trade. One of the big courthouse trees had uprooted as recently as 2011.
“It’s very sad,” acting city arborist Tim Porter said at the time. “We try to preserve things as long as we can. But once there’s a tipping point, there’s a risk we can’t afford to take.”
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Presiding U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney has promised that the hardwoods will be replaced, likely as part of the future redevelopment of the courthouse and its campus. The new trees will be 3 inches in diameter and 20 feet tall, compared with the 4-foot girths and 80- to 100-foot crests that had been there before.
The loss is part of a bigger problem: Charlotte’s urban canopy is graying. In parts of uptown, less than half the oaks are considered to be in good shape.