A tree believed to have lived more than a century at Paramount Ranch has been unable to overcome the damage it sustained in the Woolsey Fire, and the public is invited to bid the towering oak farewell this weekend.
An event from 2-4 p.m. this Saturday at the iconic Western-style town will celebrate the “witness tree” before it’s cut down later this month, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area announced Tuesday.
Even those who haven’t been to the ranch themselves are likely to have seen the valley oak looming in the background of a movie. Park officials say the tree “has likely observed all of European settlement in the area and perhaps a not insubstantial portion of Native American habitation; not to mention the numerous weddings, film productions and special events of recent years.”
Paramount Ranch and the witness tree were among the casualties when Woolsey tore through the mountains in November 2018, damaging 88% of the park and 112 miles of trails. The 2,700 acre ranch — first leased by Paramount Pictures in 1927 and used as a backdrop for hundreds of movies — was largely reduced to rubble.
The oak was charred so severely that much of its bark was left a “ghostly white,” officials said. A volunteer arborist worked to strengthen the tree, and last March the Recreation Area tweeted that “signs of life” were sprouting.
We’ve spotted signs of life sprouting in the beloved valley oak tree at Paramount Ranch's Western Town. This centuries old tree is known as a "witness tree." We know these green sprouts aren't a guarantee that the whole tree will survive, but who knows? Maybe it will. pic.twitter.com/Ow1Mb0ov44
— Santa Monica Mtns (@SantaMonicaMtns) March 5, 2019
But ultimately, officials have determined it must be cut down. Its wood will live on as benches, signs, hitching posts and other features when the Western town is rebuilt, according to the park.
No one knows exactly how long ago the stately oak sprouted, but its 100 inch diameter at breast height means it could be more than a century old. Biologists will determine its exact age using tree rings once it’s cut down.
But until then, they’ve decided to make a contest out of the mystery. The public can email their guess for the witness tree’s age to email@example.com, and the person closest will receive a small gift. Include your name and address when submitting.
Construction on the Western town is slated to begin within the next few years. You can donate to the project through the Santa Monica Mountains Fund.