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Old Colorado City's 'Christmas spruce' dying; plan for replacement in the works

The long-time "Christmas spruce" for Old Colorado City is shown in a recent view toward the clock tower and the Old Town Plaza from the north side of 25th Street and Colorado Avenue.
Westside Pioneer photo
For 20-some years, the blue spruce beside Old Colorado City's clock tower has been an icon. Evergreens abound in the historic district, but this is the only one used as a community Christmas tree, its broad-limbed, 35-foot height bedecked every December with multicolored lights.
       Local merchants doubled down on the holiday lighting during the early years of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, dubbing it the “honor tree,” with an annual ceremony for three years (2004 to 2006) to recognize the military in the parking lot of the Old Town Plaza that sits behind the tower and tree.
       But now the days are numbered for the Christmas spruce. With its blue-green needles increasingly turning brown, a recent examination by Jeff Cooper, the city's
A close-up shows a dead, lower branch on the blue spruce by Old Colorado City's clock tower. The partially shown sign in the background is for the Old Town Plaza.
Westside Pioneer photo
staff forester, determined that it is dying and needs to be removed. The cause is not some disease or insect infestation, “just environmental stress,” he said. “The top of it is crispy. It can't get water to the top for some reason.”
       Although a specific date has not been determined, the removal is expected before next winter. A contractor will cut it down, then “grind out the stump,” Cooper said.
       An open question is whether - or how - the spruce will be replaced. But interviews with representatives of City Parks and the volunteer committee for the Old Colorado City Special Improvement Maintenance District (SIMD) show a desire to put another evergreen in the same spot.
       The main reason is a desire by the Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA) business group to carry on the Christmas lighting tradition, according to Jon Carlson, the SIMD coordinator for City Parks. With that in mind, “we probably would consider a similar tree,” he said. “It would need to be of enough size that it could have some impact right away.”
During the inaugural "Honor Tree" event to recognize military service Nov. 27, 2004, the Spring Singers of the Colorado Springs Children's Chorale performed below the clock tower in front of the lighted Christmas Spruce (which was healthier then).
Westside Pioneer file photo

       Carlson plans to discuss the details with City Forestry (which is a unit of City Parks). But an interview with Cooper revealed that planting a new spruce, especially a more mature one, would not be an easy project. He said that a 15-footer would be about the maximum that could be managed, and even that “would be a major undertaking, requiring a flatbed truck.”
       Cooper suggested that it might make sense to plant a smaller tree. “A larger tree typically takes longer to establish,” he noted. “You have to cut away some of the root system to plant it.” So, within 10 years, it wouldn't be unexpected for a smaller tree to have caught up in height, Cooper explained.
       Consisting of property owners within Old Colorado City, the SIMD committee will likely be discussing the issue in upcoming meetings. The group meets monthly, addressing district upkeep and upgrades, with its budget coming from a special property tax on Old Colorado City land owners.
       Funding sources for a new tree have not been formalized, but the cost would be as much as $800, according to Cooper. The city owns the property it's on, Carlson said.
       A mystery about the Christmas spruce is when it was planted. The first clue is a photo from 1980, at the ceremony when Vera Chambon, the widow of Clarion Chambon, donated the clock for the tower he had erected years before (originally to hold a sign). In the photo, it's evident that the tree is not there yet.
       The Westside Pioneer then talked to several people who have lived or worked in the Old Colorado City area, but no one could recall when the tree went in. There was even puzzlement as to why that location - right by the clock tower and the Colorado Avenue sidewalk - was even chosen.
       Those intereviewed included Dave Hughes, leader of the Old Town revitalization that started in the late 1970s; Kathy Read, who started her business in the 2400
A ceremony during the 1980 Territory Days commemorated the installation of a clock onto what is now known as the "clock tower" in the Old Town Plaza. The two-sided time-keeping device was donated by Vera Chambon, in memory of her husband, Clarion Chambon, who had developed the plaza property in the 1960s and originally used the tower for signage. The photo also presents evidence that the blue spruce had not yet been planted beside the tower.
Courtesy of Dave Hughes
block in the early 1980s; Bill Grimes, an entrepreneur in the district since 1979; and Gene Yergensen, then co-owner of the architectural firm that worked with Hughes and other civic leaders on Old Colorado City's upgrade, including brick pavers, pedestrian bumpouts and some plantings.
       Read did note that in the mid- to late '80s the Old Town merchants were requesting city approval to put lighting on the tree, but were turned down at first, even though a similar practice was allowed downtown. “We were so frustrated and angry,” she recalled.
       The Christmas spruce's planting time frame can at least be narrowed down, based on the recollection of Judy Kasten, who opened her accounting office in the Old Town Plaza in 1982. “I don't remember the tree not being there,” she said.
       That would put the planting date at somewhere between 1980 and 1982, meaning the tree will have lived about 35 years when it's taken out. In the forest, a blue spruce often lives more than 100 years.
       What caused its early demise? Cooper, the city forester, said he can't say for sure: “Trees don't make very good patients because they can't tell you what's wrong.” However, he added that a life span of less than 50 years in a city setting is not unusual. “Urban trees lead a pretty harsh life,” he elaborated. “They're constantly bombarded with runoff and road salt, and their roots can't expand like in native conditions.”
       Cooper also pointed to the adverse effects of the Christmas spruce being next to an asphalt parking lot, which “reflects the heat, and the water can't percolate down.”

Westside Pioneer article
(Posted 4/3/16; Business: (Changes)

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