A young man on an ATV undid hours of hard work of volunteers, damaging dozens of Garry oak saplings planted at Oak Harbor’s Centennial Oak Grove.
A woman on her way to work at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island July 1 reported seeing someone in an ATV tearing around the former Boyer property at the corner of Fakkema Road and State Highway 20.
When she stopped to investigate, the man left the scene.
The man on the ATV rode through a patch of 100 saplings, planted last fall by volunteers and city staff, said Brad Gluth, city civil engineer and one of the leaders of the Oak Harbor Garry Oak Society.
The nonprofit group is working to save Oak Harbor’s namesake tree, which are disappearing as the city grows and develops.
The stakes and blue plastic sleeves protecting the saplings were scattered around the area. Many of the oaks were crushed or missing branches.
It appeared as if the man aimed the ATV directly at the largest planting.
“I am disgusted,” he said, surveying the scene earlier this week.
“A lot of people put effort into creating something beautiful for the community.”
The 18-acre city-owned property is otherwise undeveloped because it sits under the flight path. Virtually all the improvements to the oak grove were the result of volunteer work and donations of materials. People from around the community grew the slow-growing oaks from Oak Harbor acorns, babying them in backyards and gardens.
Local businesses chipped in with wood shavings, compost and other supplies.
The grove is intended to greet visitors to Oak Harbor driving along Highway 20. First, they see the Naval Air Station Whidbey Island jets at Ault Field, followed by the oak grove, a nod to both the city’s military heritage and history.
The grove includes 100 saplings about 6 feet tall and another 237 smaller seedlings.
Some people made donations for trees to honor lost loved ones. One of them was Oak Harbor City Councilman Jim Campbell, who purchased a tree in honor of his deceased son, Guy Rainbolt.
When he heard about the incident, Campbell said his first response “is not printable.”
“How stupid is this?” he said. “What possessed a guy to do something like this? For (Campbell’s wife) Beth and I, it’s heartbreaking.”
It’s not an official park and the city doesn’t want people riding ATVs on it, Gluth said. Many of the trees might be salvageable. For the sake of expediency, parks workers will try to repair what they can before critters munch the exposed saplings, he said.
A smaller patch of saplings and a planting with slightly older, larger trees was undamaged. Gluth said the witness may have scared off the ATV rider before he plowed all the oaks.
Now the police want the public’s help finding the culprit. The witness said the damage occurred around 9:30 p.m. Friday.
The witness described the ATV rider as a young, white male with a lanky build and longer dirty blond hair. He was wearing a white T-shirt. She watched him ride his ATV southeast on a trail that leads to a small cluster of homes.
“I’m pretty sure somebody knows who exactly who this is,” Gluth said.
As of press time Friday, police hadn’t made any arrests but had received some leads.
Anyone with information that might lead to the ATV rider is asked to contact Sgt. Cedric Niiro at 360-279-4600 or firstname.lastname@example.org