Big Tree in McBaine Faces Uncertain Future

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The Big Bur Oak tree in McBaine is a staple of Mid-Missouri.

The 350 year-old tree is the largest Bur Oak tree in the state and stands more than 90 feet tall.

However, environmental circumstances surrounding the tree may result in an uncertain future.

Kenny Bassett, a resident of the area, said he's seen rapid decline in the tree's health.

Bassett drives by the tree on a weekly basis on his way to and from work.

"The side of the tree hanging over the asphalt road is declining at a high rate," he said. "You can just tell by looking at it, it's so much more bare than on the other side."

Bassett believes the asphalt road that winds close to the base of the trunk is trapping the tree's root system and as a result, is starving out that side of the tree.

"The asphalt lies directly over the roots of the tree and don't allow it to absorb the water and nutrients it needs," he said. "There's also a lot of run-off from treatment to the asphalt road that isn't good for the ground surrounding the tree."

Boone County Public Works said the asphalt road replaced a gravel road in 1999.

"After the floods of 1995 the gravel road really needed replaced," said Mike Glascock with Boone County Public Works. "Traffic on the road increased too, but the public really wanted the road fixed after the floods."

Glascock also said the asphalt road was placed directly over the gravel road, but Bassett said that's not right.

"I remember you being able to park a car in between the base of the tree and the gravel road," he said." "Now, the distance from the asphalt road to the base of the trunk is like three feet."

Chris Starbuck, Professor Emeritus of Plant Sciences at the University of Missouri said the asphalt road could be just one of many factors relating to the tree's decline.

"The roots of that tree are actually no where close to being under the asphalt road, he said. "They extend way out into the farmland that surrounds the tree, so I don't think the road is the primary reason behind the rapid decline."

Starbuck said environmental disasters might be more to blame.

"The floods of 1993 and 1995 had an impact," he said. "It was basically under water for weeks, but it seemed to bounce back just fine. However, last year's drought really tested the tree. They had to come in and artificially water it for the first time ever."

Solutions to help slow the decline of the tree are controversial.

Bassett said moving the asphalt road farther away from the base of the tree would help alleviate the root system but could cause other problems.

"Coming in here and digging up the asphalt road with all of those machines and stuff could cause more harm to the tree," he said. "It's just sad what's happening."

The reason behind what is truly causing the decline of the Big Tree is still uncertain, something that can't be figured out easily.

"Excavating the ground around the tree might help find out what's causing the decline but it takes resources and time," Bassett said. "I still believe the asphalt is hurting the overall health of the tree."