Tree-topper in trouble |

Tree-topper in trouble

John Colson
A half-dozen trees on East Hopkins Avenue were recently "topped," meaning someone cut their tops off. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)

The party responsible for damaging several trees on the east side of Aspen recently could face up to a year in jail or a fine of up to $1,000 – or both.A half-dozen trees were “topped” along the 1000 block of East Hopkins Avenue, meaning the top portion of each tree was removed. City officials have “tagged” the trees with yellow signs declaring the action “improper and illegal” and promising to replace the trees in the summer.The Aspen Police Department reportedly is investigating the crime, which the city code book lists as “damage to city resources.” Police would not release further details.

Such cases typically are tried in municipal court.According to Deputy Park Director Stephen Ellsperman, the topping was discovered on April 10; it is believed to have happened over the previous weekend.”Somebody took it upon themselves to … destroy six narrow-leaf cottonwoods,” he said, explaining that while these trees are less than a decade old, they are the same species as the arboreal monarchs that have lined much of Aspen’s Main Street for the past century or so.But those old trees “are reaching the end of their life cycle. And so the new foundation of our community forest are these [young] trees. We’ve planted hundreds of these trees in the right of way in the last five years,” Ellsperman said.

The policy of replacing cottonwoods with cottonwoods, at least along this stretch of Hopkins, is not without its critics. A longtime local who maintains a set of townhomes near the topped trees said he understood the action.”They’re the wrong trees,” said the man, who refused to be identified. He said the cottonwoods grow too large for the small strip of grass between the sidewalk and the curb, and ultimately cause the concrete to buckle and warp. He maintained that the city should plant “hardwood trees that are slow-growing” but still provide the canopy of shade that is the goal of the replantings.

Ellsperman said the cottonwoods are a historical presence in the city, however, and replanting is a matter of policy the City Council set.He acknowledged that “sometimes they [cottonwoods] can become a problem over time,” but argued that in most situations they do not.As for the destruction of the trees, he said, “We don’t see this very often … this type of blatant damage,” and added that the city does not often call on the police to investigate such incidents.But in this case, the city has received a number of calls from citizens upset with the acts of destruction.

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