Five fewer trees stand on the Hamilton County Courthouse lawn this week -- and contrary to county officials' first impression, their disappearance doesn't appear to be the result of Occupy Chattanooga's four-month stay.
A tree removal service cut three silver maples, one red maple and a willow oak and trimmed other trees Saturday as part of a lawn overhaul. The tree removal cost the county $9,600, Parks and Recreation Director Ron Priddy said Monday.
"We had a tree or two we thought got damaged when the Occupiers were on the property," Priddy said.
The Occupy Chattanooga group was evicted last month from the lawn.
But the trees' problems weren't directly linked to the protest group's actions, said City Forester Gene Hyde, who consulted with the county on the courthouse canopy's condition. Though he examined what appeared to be hatchet marks on one tree, it didn't appeared to be gravely wounded, Hyde said.
Three silver maples were at the end of their useful lives, a red maple was completely overtopped by a larger oak, and the willow oak showed signs of decay, he said. A silver maple also had a limb overhanging the Georgia Avenue sidewalk.
Silver maples, though fast-growing, are not known for longevity, Hyde said.
"They're weak-wooded," he said. "They hollow out and decay."
Then, under the weight of their leaves, they're susceptible to toppling in stiff winds and wet conditions, he said.
Though Hyde recommended that the county cut one branch of its locally famous Osage orange tree, Priddy said his department couldn't bear to do it.
"That tree was so precious we didn't want to bother it," he said.
Priddy said the county will likely plant some new trees later this spring but did not say what type.
Hyde recommended that the county plant disease-resistant American elms as replacement trees.
Large bare spots also remain where Occupiers' tents had been, and county officials plan to resod or resow the entire lawn beginning next week. Priddy had no estimate of the overall cost of restoration, which he hopes to finish by mid-May, weather permitting.