For 70 years or so, a Colorado blue spruce tree has provided shade and shelter from the elements to the remains of Rifle residents who have passed away and lie in the mausoleum at Rose Hill Cemetery.
While that situation won't change any time in the near future, city parks workers are watching the tree - Colorado's state tree - after noticing some "gradual progress with the roots moving some of the masonry around near the mausoleum," according to Parks Manager Tom Whitmore.
"Our concern has been ongoing over the years," he wrote in an email. "The tree is in a rather small 'planter,' in my opinion."
The problem is underground, Whitmore said. The tree's roots have begun pushing against a nearby retaining wall, leading to concerns about the walls of the mausoleum, he explained.
"We've been monitoring the tree and the situation and wondering what to do, if anything," Whitmore said. "We're thinking the roots are going to start to move the masonry on the mausoleum."
The city has not heard any concerns or complaints from relatives of those buried in the mausoleum, Whitmore said, "But we as staff are pretty worried. We don't want to see anything disturb things. And there's liability issues, too."
Whitmore said his crews have not intentionally removed any live, healthy trees from city parks, only diseased or damaged trees.
"This one is pretty healthy, too," Whitmore added. "It's about two feet in diameter, maybe 70 to 75 feet tall, just a happy and healthy tree."
The Rifle Reading Club, which formed on June 17, 1903, planted the first trees in Rose Hill Cemetery, according to a story in the June 19, 2003, Citizen Telegram. The club was intended to be a social club and civic organization for the ladies of Rifle.
The club was also responsible for helping get irrigation water to the cemetery, and for many years did the spring clean up, preparing the grounds for Memorial Day.
The club disbanded on its 100th birthday.
Now, Whitmore said the city's first concern is public safety. He noted tree specialists from the Colorado State Forestry Service and Rifle Ranger District office of the White River National Forest inspected the tree from a "hazard tree" point of view.
"They didn't see any reason or express any concern that this tree was any more likely to come down than any other," Whitmore said. "They felt like it had been there a long time, and intended to stay indefinitely."
Most roots on Colorado blue spruce trees stay within a two-foot radius of the tree, Whitmore said, but it's likely these roots go pretty deep due to the tree's age.
Whitmore said his department gets a number of calls from people concerned about dead trees at Rifle Mountain Park. They wonder if the trees are more likely to fall, he said.
"From our experience, the live, healthy looking, mature trees, are more likely to break off or blow over during a wind event than the dead ones," Whitmore continued. "They are much heavier and have a much greater wind load than a dead tree with no needles."
City parks staff are inspecting and monitoring the tree on a monthly basis.
The tree was likely planted as a memorial when the mausoleum was built, Whitmore said. But city records do not indicate the exact date or include any names.
"It's really hard to talk about maybe having to remove a tree like this," Whitmore said. "We work so hard to keep all our trees alive and this one is doing so well."