The City of Aiken's 23,016 trees are, in total, worth more than $130 million, according to a newly published study.
On Monday night, Bartlett Tree Experts presented its inventory of the City's trees and provided City Council a management plan. The analysis looked at three areas: parkways, of which there are 249; City-owned parcels; and rights of way. Larger land masses – forested areas, basically – were studied and considered, as well.
"We're just thankful and beyond blessed that we're able to share this with the City of Aiken," Justin Lee, Bartlett's local representative, said.
One tree alone, the City's most valuable, is worth $70,126.84. It is located in Hopelands Gardens. Eight of the top 10 most valuable trees are live oaks, according to the study.
"The big number here is the estimated asset value…" Michael Sherwood, a Bartlett Inventory Solutions manager and master arborist, said.
None of the top 10 most valuable trees are located on Aiken's iconic South Boundary Avenue. Sherwood said that was surprising.
Parkways account for approximately half of the City's tree value. A tree's price tag, in this study, was determined by several factors: size, species desirability, location and condition.
Of the City's 23,016 trees, 62 percent are in good shape, according to the study. Nearly 1,300 trees are in poor condition, that's 6 percent of the total, and 196 trees are dead.
The near-majority of trees in Aiken are mature. There are 436 species of tree – "a very unique collection," as Sherwood put it – in the City, 75 percent of which are native to the state, the study explains.
"Guess what, your most predominant species is oak," Sherwood said. "Does that surprise anybody? No."
On Monday night, City Council member Ed Girardeau described the study, and the City's greenery, as "amazing."
Aiken has been named a "Tree City USA" every year since 1985, the study notes.
Maintaining that title – and maintaining the City's sprawling canopies – is expensive and work-intensive, something the Bartlett study acknowledges and provides answers for.
The Bartlett study advises the City to perform "risk mitigation activities" for 1,155 defective or damaged trees.
The study also calls for the pruning of 8,855 trees to better health, appearance and safety. Structural support, which reduces the chance of branch or tree collapse, is recommended for 356 trees.
After the presentation, Mayor Rick Osbon said the Bartlett study, which he said he was thoroughly impressed with, marks the start of a citywide tree program.
On Tuesday morning, he elaborated.
"It reveals several things to us…" Osbon said of the study. "I think this is a great beginning for a comprehensive look at protecting and preserving the trees."
Osbon said City Council and citizens alike love the City's trees – "landmarks," he later called them.
"I certainly couldn't imagine our city without them," the mayor added.
The tree inventory was funded with a donation from Rob Johnston, who worked with the Aiken Land Conservancy.