A tree falls in Buxton

By on February 19, 2024

The live oak is loaded onto a flatbed and taken away. (Photo credit: Jim Lyons)

Nearby residents question the cutting of a large live oak

Flowers Ridge Road is a narrow, twisting dirt stretch off Lighthouse Road in Buxton. It meanders along a low ridge, passes Jennette Sedge, finally intersecting Old Doctors Road in Buxton Woods. One of the oldest roads on Hatteras Island, it has never been paved and doesn’t show up on state highway maps, making it difficult to say just how old it is.

But there’s no doubt a road has been there for some time. Rick Scarborough has been living on Flowers Ridge for most of his adult life.  “I’ve been living on Flowers Ridge for close to 40 years,” he said. “My granddad, when he was a boy, he’d come down and cut firewood. They take a horse in a cart back there and cut firewood.”

And for as long as anyone can remember, at the north side of where the road meets Lighthouse Road there, there was a gigantic live oak.

“It wasn’t this big, beautiful live oak that has shade with 20 cars sitting underneath it. It was a survivor. It was a fighter,” he said. The tree was an ancient but low-lying live oak, battered by the salt air of the sea.

The tree is no longer there, taken down earlier this month by the National Park Service (NPS) contractor putting the 1.6-mile multi-use path in that will parallel Lighthouse Road from the intersection with NC12 to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse parking lot.

Jim Lyons stands beside what is left of the live oak that once marked the intersection of Flowers Ridge Road and Lighthouse Road. (Photo credit: Kip Tabb/OBV)

An NPS representative said that taking down the live oak was needed to keep the path aligned and to prevent potential damage to other trees and wetlands. For residents living along Flowers Ridge Road, however, losing the tree was painful and shocking and felt personal.

“This oak has marked the entrance to Flower’s Ridge Road probably a 100 plus years. We’re “very disappointed in the park decision to remove it,” one such resident, Jim Lyons, said in an email to the Voice.

“You cannot live here and not know the value of that tree…about the people who live here locally and the generations [who know] of this tree,” said Linda Scott, another resident.

There was one question that was raised a number of times in interviews. “What criteria did they use to justify removal?” Lyons asked, when speaking with the Voice, repeating a question that residents referenced in a number of different ways.

Particularly confusing to Lyons was a federally mandated Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) Report that was filed for the project. In an email to the Project Manager for the NPS, Steven Torgerson, he asked about the FONSI and whether the tree had been considered in it.

New or significant construction projects on federal lands must undergo an Environmental Assessment under the provisions of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). The NEPA website defines a FONSI as “a document that presents the reasons why the agency has concluded that there are no significant environmental impacts projected to occur upon implementation of the action.”

If an Environmental Assessment identifies possible environmental impacts, the agency would have to produce an Environmental Impact Statement, a much more detailed and time-consuming report that typically take a year or longer to complete.

“I would like to know if the removal of the tree was considered in the original Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for this project. Specifically, was the decision to remove the tree made after the publication of the FONSI,” Lyons said. Torgerson has not yet answered his email.

In an interview with the Voice, Torgerson explained that the intersection of Flowers Ridge and Lighthouse Roads created special circumstances. “We looked at all the possibilities for the trail alignment, the tree was complicated in many ways,” he said.

That intersection forms a T and that, according to Torgerson, is where things became complicated. For a T intersection to be safe, the trail on both sides of the road must align.

If the live oak had not been removed, the path would have had to go around the tree on the Flowers Ridge Road side, then a path on the other side of the road would have had to be created.

“It would have required us to disturb a large amount of the tree roots,” he said, adding there would also be other trees to remove if the alignment had been changed. “There are some other trees on the other [side of the road] that are also fairly large oaks, not as large.”

He also stated that rerouting the trail around the tree would probably have created wetlands disturbance. “We tried to align this trail in a manner to really minimize impacts to the wetland because as you go down the road, there are wetlands on both sides or the road,” Torgerson said.

For his part, Outer Banks Group Park Superintendent Dave Hallac told the Voice that “We do understand that local residents were saddened by the removal of the tree, and we’re committed to taking a hard look at these things in the future.”

Ultimately, Scott said, she and others mourning the loss of the tree are hoping that hard look will prevent a recurrence of the live oak’s fate.

“This is simply about we do not want to see this happen again,” she stated.



Comments

  • Patrick

    NPS Mission Statement:
    “The National Park Service preserves, unimpaired, the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”

    Excerpt from CHNS Enabling Legislation:
    “Except for certain portions of the area deemed to be especially adaptable for recreational uses, particularly swimming, boating, sailing, fishing, and other similar recreational activities, which shall be developed for such uses as needed, the said area shall be permanently reserved as a primitive wilderness. No development of the project or plan for the convenience of visitors shall be undertaken, which would be incompatible with the preservation of the unique flora and fauna or the physiographic conditions now prevailing in this area…”

    CHNS Mission Statement:
    “The purpose of Cape Hatteras National Seashore is to permanently preserve the wild and primitive character of the ever-changing barrier islands, protect the diverse plant and animal communities sustained by the coastal island processes, and provide for recreational use and enjoyment that is compatible with preserving…”

    Tuesday, Feb 20 @ 7:26 am
  • surf123

    It is unacceptable to cut down healthy live oak trees for any reason. Cutting down a 100 year old tree by considering it insignificant is beyond believe. Any 100 year old tree on HI is significant.

    Tuesday, Feb 20 @ 9:55 am
  • Rick Scarborough

    Mr Clarence Janette told me years ago that flowers ridge road originated as an Indian Trail going through Buxton woods. I personally feel like that tray was probably at least 400 years old as so many of the giant Live Oaks on the island are. I just hope this brings attention to people so it doesn’t continue to happen down here. And I feel like I do have a voice being my family’s been here from the beginning of the white people invading this areaback in the 1600s.

    Tuesday, Feb 20 @ 11:36 am
  • Rick Scarborough

    I ment “tree” not tray.

    Tuesday, Feb 20 @ 11:38 am
  • Kevin McCabe

    The same government allowed 9 million people to illegally walk across our border in the last 3 years…I understand less and less each day.

    Tuesday, Feb 20 @ 12:15 pm
  • Lumberjack Larry

    Oh no, they cut a half rotten tree down, let’s all get in a drum circle and hold a memorial service for it.

    Tuesday, Feb 20 @ 3:30 pm
  • Rick Shaftan

    Their rationale makes a lot of sense.

    What doesn’t make sense is a sidewalk when there’s a parking area down at the Lighthouse. I bike down there and I won’t ever bike on a sidewalk — road is much safer and you won’t hit people.

    Tuesday, Feb 20 @ 11:18 pm
  • Johnny 5

    Surf, looking at the pic of the wood loaded on the trailer, half of it looks rotten.

    You’d be “one of those” neighbors I guess if you lived next to me. I happily cut down every tree within reach of my house. I assume no trees were harmed where yours is, since it’s unacceptable to do so?

    Wednesday, Feb 21 @ 4:14 am
  • Joseph Page

    Just another instance of mankind destroying nature…

    Sunday, Feb 25 @ 11:00 pm
  • Mark A Williamson

    So, the NPS removed a tree , on their property, to build a multi use path. Where is the PROBLEM? It’s not up for public debate, they don’t need to ask permission. This isn’t the only NATIONAL PARK in the country, the NPS is a large, very large even, outfit. I guess you can’t make everybody happy

    Wednesday, Feb 28 @ 8:53 pm