Whitehead Boulevard in Port Allen and its stately oaks serve as valuable recreational area frequented often by joggers, walkers and cyclists citywide.
“There is rarely a time that you cross Whitehead Boulevard and there isn’t some family strolling their baby, jogging around the boulevard, walking. It’s just a perfect family area,” said City Councilman Hugh Rivierre. “Whitehead Boulevard is, to me, it’s a gem that this city has.” All too often, the boulevard serves as a parking lot, jeopardizing the majestic boulevard’s future. The visible and invisible consequences of parking under the live oaks in Port Allen, especially on Whitehead Boulevard, is of particular concern. This improper use of the street often results in deep ruts and other surface damage. The hidden consequences of soil compaction, however, are much greater and less noticeable.
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Soil compaction is a problem that slowly kills some of the largest, oldest, and most beautiful trees. It occurs when heavy objects compress the soil around the trees' roots. Keeping cars, trucks, machinery, and recreational vehicles off grounds with trees is an important way to avoid soil compaction and protect tree root systems. "Sometimes roots can be crushed and killed immediately by one instance of heavy weight. More often, compaction is created over time by repeated smaller loads. The tree suffers a slow, starving death." says James Kielbaso, a forestry professor at Michigan State University.
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Depending on soil conditions, roots can extend two or more times farther than the total height of the tree. The majority of these root systems are located in the upper 18-24 inches of soil to take advantage of as much rain, nutrients, and oxygen as possible. Treading carefully around vulnerable root systems is a critical way to keep trees healthy and intact. Parking vehicles on non-paved surfaces should be avoided. Because soil compaction is not something we can easily see, its harmful effects may not be easy to observe. Compacted soils reduce water and oxygen availability. This loss of water, nutrient, and oxygen access can cause tree crown dieback or even death of the entire tree. Soil compaction can also affect a tree’s physical stability. As tree root systems suffocate, a tree’s ability to anchor itself is compromised. Such trees are more susceptible to being knocked over during major storms and hurricanes.
Port Allen’s mature live oak canopy is truly a gem and an irreplaceable community asset. A mature live oak canopy increases property values, serves as an urban forest, and plays a crucial role in stormwater management. Everyone appreciates the natural beauty of our city and certain steps must be taken to preserve its beautiful live oak canopy. If we want these beautiful trees around for future generations, we must take care of them now.