MORGANTOWN — Morgantown City Manager Paul Brake said construction is ready to begin on the city’s multi-million dollar riverfront makeover and he expects mobilization on the project to get under way in the next two weeks.
Brake said part of that project will include the removal and “one-for-one” replacement of dozens of Yoshino cherry trees that form a living memorial along the rail-trail near the Hazel Ruby McQuain Riverfront Park.
According to The Dominion Post archive, the trees were planted in 2001 following a donation by Milan Roh in memory of his wife, Geraldine Jerry Murphy Roh.
During Tuesday’s regular meeting of Morgantown City Council, Brake said between 35-40 of the 45 trees will be replaced in order to accommodate project designs and address “concerns about the integrity of that donation.”
The designs call for a portion of the trail to be moved seven feet in order to accommodate a large plaza area near the amphitheater. Additionally, the trail will be straightened through that section.
Brake also explained that the trees were not originally planted deep enough, leading to “root girdling,” or exposed roots caused by a lack of oxygen. The trees were also planted too close to the trail, he said, leading to roots impacting the paved path.
“These trees lack oxygen, so they’re coming up and it’s not a healthy environment,” Brake said, adding, “This is indicative that they’re built on a rail bed and it does not allow the roots to penetrate into the ground. It’s too shallow of an area.”
There are four trees that are already dead and a few others that need immediate attention, according to Brake.
The blossoming cherry trees currently form a canopy over a portion of the riverfront trail. The replacement trees will be the same variety but very young, meaning it will likely be a decade or so before the canopy returns.
“If new, replacement trees are planted properly, it will contribute to a greater, longer legacy, which was the intent of the donor,” Brake said. “We have the ability of doing that, but there’s a sacrifice that’s made in that these are much, much younger trees.”
Brake said he’s been in contact with the Roh family and offered the option of a rededication once the project is complete.
He went to say that work on the riverfront revitalization project will likely begin with the construction of a sunshade over the existing amphitheater seating and internal modifications to the depot building.
The riverfront project was made possible by a $4.1 million gift from the Hazel Ruby McQuain Foundation.
Updated project plans are available on the main page of the city’s website, morgantownwv.gov, listed under “quick links.”
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