Landmark Bend willow falls

Neighborhood residents and a Bend police officer look over damage that occurred Tuesday afternoon when a large willow tree tumbled into the Deschutes River off Northwest Riverfront Street upriver from the Galveston Street bridge. Photo by Rob Kerr / The Bulletin

A prominent willow tree along the Deschutes River in Bend tumbled into the water Tuesday.

“It’s a terrible, sad thing,” said Ellen Waterston, who lives across the river from where the tree fell. “She was just the mother of this river.”

The willow stood on the east bank of the Deschutes, behind homes on Northwest Riverfront Street. People floating the river regularly would grab onto its branches and roots as they drifted past, said Waterston, a poet and author.

“It was just an absolutely beautiful, enormous willow,” she said.

The downed tree blocked nearly half of the river just upstream of the Galveston Avenue bridge. The willow was a Bend icon of sorts, said Pam Stevenson, 50, who owns part of the land where the tree once stood.

“I can’t tell you how many thousands of people enjoyed floating under it and enjoyed relaxing in the shade of the tree,” she said.

Over the last two summers, the willow was also the sight for small concerts Stevenson said she hosted in her backyard, often as fundraisers.

Stevenson said she wasn’t sure what caused the tree to fall around 3:30 p.m. “It ripped out at the roots and fell into the river.”

Waterson and Stevenson both said they didn’t see the tree fall, but did hear the crash and splash.

“(I) came out and there it was, in the river,” said Stevenson, who has lived along the river for 12 years.

She had named the tree after her dog Popcorn, a corgi and and Jack Russell mix that died at age 15 in 2000 and was buried under the tree.

A wooden sign on the tree marked it as “Popcorn’s Willow” and gave warning earlier this summer that the tree was starting to swoon. Stevenson said the once-level sign showed a definite slant.

Hoping to halt its droop, Wade Fagen, a tree specialist with Fagen Tree Service and Wood Chips, said he planned to trim the willow branches this winter when it would be dormant.

After examining the fallen tree Tuesday afternoon, Fagen said the tree appeared to have been scarred at some point, which caused it to rot.

“The roots are all rotten,” he said.

The tree appeared to be about 50 years old, but Fagen said he won’t know for sure until he cuts into it.

Stevenson said she planned to discuss with Fagen how to remove the tree. Fagen said doing so could be a challenge. Removing the tree may require floating it down the river.

Before that happens, Pam Hardy, 44, a friend of Stevenson, said they plan to take cuttings from the willow and use them to plant new trees along the river — including one in the spot where Popcorn’s Willow used to stand.

“This tree will live on,” she said.

Source: The Bulletin ©2012

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