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Vandal strips bark from tree at trailhead along Parkway

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The tulip poplar is known for its majestic beauty and valued for its bark, which may be why someone stripped the outer covering from a tree at Rattlesnake Lodge trailhead off Ox Creek Road. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

The tulip poplar is known for its majestic beauty and valued for its bark, which may be why someone stripped the outer covering from a tree at Rattlesnake Lodge trailhead off Ox Creek Road.

"Once you girdle a tree, it kills it," acting Pisgah District ranger Chuck Hester said. "So, not only now, it creates a safety hazard. So, that’s an adult tree that can fall at any time. We have to remove it.”

The word "stop" has been carved in the stump.

To girdle or ring a tree, means to remove a section of bark around the entire circumference of the tree, which cuts off the tree's lifeline to the ground below.

Last month, the same thing happened at Alexander River Park. Three trees were ringed in that Buncombe County case, which has not been solved.

Because the tree at Rattlesnake Lodge trailhead is on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the latest incident is a federal crime.

Why take the bark from the trees?

For Parkway investigators, there’s also a question of motive.

"Someone’s just vandalizing it or for commercial use, we’re unsure, right now. We're still in the investigative stage with where it’s at," Hester said.

World-class woven sculpture artist Matt Tommey, who has a studio in the River Arts District, is an expert in the use of bark, which he uses to create things like old-timey berry buckets.

"That’s a very typical craft here in the mountains, the inner bark and outer bark of the tulip poplar,” Tommey said.

Tommey gets his bark, and even the kudzu he uses to make baskets, from private landowners who are already in the process of clearing land.

He said what’s suddenly happening with area tulip poplars is unacceptable.

"That’s not who we are. It’s definitely not an artist that takes what they do seriously, it’s somebody that’s just looking to make a quick buck," Tommey said.

You can help

This latest case happened last week near a trailhead, so authorities hope someone saw something or knows something.

If you have any information about the case, please call 1-800-PARKWATCH.

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