Lewis Griswold

Oak trees dying in Mooney Grove park from drought

Dying Valley oak trees are a common sight at Mooney Grove park.
Dying Valley oak trees are a common sight at Mooney Grove park. lgriswold@fresnobee.com

Oak trees are dying at Mooney Grove park in the drought.

“Right now, it’s a little disheartening,” said Tulare County Parks and Recreation Division manager Neil Pilegard. “It’s the worst I’ve ever seen it.”

The number of dead trees won’t be known until late spring next year, he said.

But the fate of the iconic trees – a remnant of the oak forest that once carpeted the region – has the potential to become a political problem for county Supervisor Phil Cox when he runs for re-election next year and is expected to face a challenger.

“I’m not happy they are dying out there,” Cox said. “We are taking the best care of that park that we can.”

The problem started last summer when two of the park’s four wells went dry as underground water levels fell rapidly.

Managers used one of the two remaining wells to supply water to the museum, restrooms, workshop and other facilities, while the other well was used for irrigating trees and turf even though it produced a fraction of what was needed.

“That one well was not enough for the entire place,” Pilegard said.

A few months ago, the Board of Supervisors approved an emergency ordinance to drill a new well. The 600-feet-deep well should be functional in about two weeks.

Cox said the county “probably could have reacted sooner,” but trees still would have died.

The county park, located inside Visalia city limits on South Mooney Boulevard, has about 1,200 trees that are 12 inches or more in diameter at chest height, of which 40 percent are Valley oaks.

So far, the park has removed 40 dead trees, about half of them oak trees, including a few larger ones, the county said. Other species that are dead or dying include Arizona ash and coastal redwoods.

There’s hope some of the oak trees showing signs of stress, such as large patches of dead leaves or even all dead leaves, will bounce back after getting water from irrigation or winter rains, Pilegard said.

“We’ll see some recovery,” he said, but it may be two years before the full extent of the damage is known.

Sequoia Shuttle: The Sequoia Shuttle bus service to the big trees in Sequoia National Park wrapped up the 2015 season with a record 11,666 trips from May 21 through Sept. 27, a 30 percent increase from last year and the shuttle’s biggest year so far.

The record number is due to more days of service this year and an overall increase in popularity, Visalia Transit said.

Sequoia Shuttle provides tourists – local, national and international – with public transportation to the park from Visalia, Exeter and Three Rivers.

The shuttle also gave underserved youths the opportunity to visit the park free through the Kids to Trees grant program. In the past two years, Kids to Trees has sent more than 2,000 students to the park.

Each shuttle is wheelchair accessible and seats up to 16 passengers. Information and tickets: www.sequoiashuttle.com.

Young guns: The Visalia and Tulare chambers of commerce have selected 13 students for the 2015-16 Young Entrepreneurs Academy.

The middle and high school students will learn from business and community leaders and educators how to develop ideas and objectives, write a business plan, pitch to investors, obtain funding, register with governmental agencies, and own and operate fully-formed and functioning businesses.

The 30-week program at College of the Sequoias campuses in Visalia and Tulare will be taught by Heather Bixler, adjunct faculty, and Nathan Halls, Visalia branch president at Suncrest Bank.

This year’s young entrepreneurs: Charlotte Banks, eighth grade, Live Oak Middle School; Josiah Banks, senior, Tulare Union; Carmen Gallegos, eighth grade, La Joya; Alec Gerges, eighth grade, St. Paul’s; Jad Gerges, freshman, San Joaquin Memorial; Jude Grijalva, sophomore, Golden West; Ambar Melendez, senior, Mt. Whitney; Mitchell Nuckols, freshman, University Preparatory; Robert Perry, senior, VTEC; Marco Quintanar, senior, VTEC; Miguel Trejo, senior, Mission Oak; Mary Vinzon, junior, Golden West; and Michael Watkins, senior, Redwood.

Lewis Griswold covers news of the South Valley for The Fresno Bee: lgriswold@fresnobee.com, 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold