It may be Akron’s most famous tree, but on a cold and rainy Arbor Day the Signal Tree was celebrating alone.
Jake LeBarre, assistant district manager for the Davey Tree Expert Co., who has tended to the aging burr oak for almost 15 years, was there.
So was Stephanie Walton, chief of marketing and communications for Summit Metro Parks.
And a lone visitor to the park, hood up and hands in her jacket pockets, faced the tree and examined it Friday while a fine drizzle blew back and forth.
The park district estimates the age of the tree at 300 to 350 years, Walton said.
It could be older, but it certainly predates the city, state and nation it resides in. And the 85-foot tree is definitely a lot older than Arbor Day.
For years, the tree has been linked to a portage path where Native Americans transported their canoes by land. But Walton said thinking that the tree — its trunk and two main branches form a crude “W” — was shaped to mark the path has shifted over the years.
“We think it could have signaled good hunting or fishing grounds,” Walton said. “But it’s a signal for something.”
LeBarre said the tree has faced some aging problems over the years, but is healing well from damage caused in a July 2003 storm, deadwood and voids detailed in resistograph testing last year. The testing detects decay and cavities in trees and timber and helps estimate stability and longevity.
“It’s still in great shape,” LeBarre said. “It’s solid. It’s showing new growth and maintaining itself.”
LeBarre said Davey Tree fertilizes the tree every year, prunes it and uses cables to provide support. In the past 14 years, the tree has lost about one-third of its mass, he estimated, but new growth is replacing what’s been lost.
In August of last year, Davey Tree “adopted” the Signal Tree for five years, meaning it will provide regular maintenance and annual assessments of the tree’s health.
LeBarre pointed out a section on one of the main limbs that has been worn by visitors sitting there, often to pose for photographs. The temptation to climb the tree proves irresistible to some park visitors who ignore a fence surrounding it.
The park district could put up a more robust border, Walton said, but it wants people to be able to view and appreciate a piece of Akron’s history.
“We want everybody to enjoy it and [also] balance the protection,” Walton said.
Based on the testing from last year, the tree could live another 300 years, LeBarre said.
Bath Township resident Lisa F. Bobbitt said she came to view the tree after meeting with her newly engaged sister.
“I said, ‘Let’s meet at a park,’ ” Bobbitt said. She previously worked for the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Cleveland, but said parks have always been a sanctuary for her.
And the Signal Tree on Arbor Day?
“The more you study it, the more you notice things [about it],” she said. “I like trees. I have 2 acres of trees at home.”
Alan Ashworth can be reached at 330-996-3859 or firstname.lastname@example.org.