CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- When Cleveland Urban Forester Dan Hartman looks at a tree, he sees much more than bark and leaves.
"If this thing could talk, imagine what it would tell you," Mr. Hartman said, gazing respectfully at an Osage orange tree towering 40 feet above him on Lee University's campus.
Mr. Hartman and members of the city's Shade Tree Board estimate this particular Osage orange is about 150 years old, and they treasure it as an important Civil War-era relic.
Wanting others in the community to appreciate its grandeur, they have created a Landmark and Historic Tree Program to commemorate it and other ancient trees in historic downtown Cleveland.
"What we were looking for were unique trees, trees that were native to this country and this area," explained Sam Brocato, a former tree board member who helped launch the preservation program a year ago. "Age has a factor in it, and also size."
So far five have been chosen for protection, but only two trees -- both at Lee University -- have stone markers at their roots to identify them. The other markers will be installed as time allows and will be purchased through the city's regular urban forestry budget, according to Mr. Hartman.
The simple slabs "kind of add a little character to the town," Mr. Brocato said. "It's saying that we are concerned with historic values and landmark values."
Mr. Hartman hopes community education will be another benefit of the program.
"We want to make everybody realizes that these big trees like this don't materialize overnight," Mr. Hartman said. "It takes 150 years to grow one, so we need to protect them."
He said the protection program will be the perfect complement to the city's existing memorial tree program, which allows residents to purchase a new tree for $125 to memorialize a life event such as graduation or the passing of a loved one.
"It's about everybody working together and taking care of the community as a whole," he explained.
CLEVELAND'S HISTORIC TREES
The Landmark and Historic Tree Program includes five sites in Cleveland so far:
* Eastern red cedars on North Ocoee Street
* Osage orange on Lee University campus
* Willow oak on Lee University campus
* Southern red oak near Cleveland Middle School
* Southern red oak near the intersection of Second and Church streets
Source: City of Cleveland Urban Forester Dan Hartman
Mary Faxon, a senior at Lee, said she appreciates the city's efforts because she often escapes the stress of college life by spending time outside amidst the foliage.
"I come out here every day," Ms. Faxon said. "Our trees are extremely important, and we love them."