guiding pioneer park into its 2nd century

For over a hundred years Pioneer Park has served as the city’s gathering place. The towering, majestic trees provide a quiet refuge from daily life. It is the historic, vital center of the city.

Some of the trees in Pioneer Park are as old as the park itself, over a hundred years old. The trees in the park will eventually go the way of all things, whether it is in ten years, fifty years, or hundreds of years.

When Walla Walla’s children bring their children to the park 50 or 100 years from now, what will they find? Will Pioneer Park still have a soaring, cathedral canopy? Will we leave them a park that offers the same protected space?

Pioneer Park will endure, in some form. But should we allow the park to evolve over time without a vision for its future?

Or should we act as stewards of our legacy and guide our park into the future?

These are questions that must be addressed.

planting the 2050 canopy

The subject of the two images below is one of the Horsechestnut trees in Pioneer Park. The first image was taken from Division St and the second taken from outer space. The 2016 image shows a healthy young tree about 60′ tall, and the 2019 image shows the stump after the tree was removed.

The tree was located at the base of the sledding hill, 108′ from the curb of S. Division St.

46°04’00.7″N 118°19’09.7″W
46.066846, -118.319368

The winter of 2018-2019 offered the children of Walla Walla ample opportunity for sledding, and the 10′ high slope with a gentle grade was a favorite spot. We don’t know for certain why the tree was removed that winter, but it may have been triggered by excessive parental concern over children’s safety.


The removal of this tree exemplifies why we need to plan for the next century: we know of few — if any — other trees that will become monumental shade trees by 2050.. This was one such tree and it was removed.

Horsechestnuts, Liriodendron (Tulip trees), Bur Oaks, European Beech, Tilia (Linden). Ponderosa pines, Bald Cypress, Incense Cedars, True cedars, Giant Redwoods; all of these grow to great height and thrive in our climate. But how many young trees of these species have been planted in Pioneer Park? Few, if any.

Somewhere along the line, 30, 40, or 50 years ago, our city hit the “Pause” button on planting trees that would have a mature height of 100′ or more. To insure that we will have a cathedral canopy in 2050 we must hit the “Resume” button and once again plant monumental trees.

selecting the appropriate species for a cathedral canopy in 2050

Along the west side of Pioneer Park, starting near the intersection of Division and Alder and running south for nearly 250′, is a collection of six Tri-color Beeches. These small, ornamental trees are of various ages: some planted within the last few years.

Tri-color beeches are instantly recognized in the spring by the brilliant magenta foliage. There are a number of cultivars, all of which are dwarf varieties. These trees, along one of Pioneer Park’s most visible borders, will attain a maximum height of 40 feet, and do not provide much shade. Some sources recommend Tricolor beeches for use as hedges.

In mid-summer Tricolor beeches fade to a muddy brown:

Nurseries recommend partial shade for best results; the trees along Division are exposed to the full force of the southwest sun.

The tricolor beech may be a fine choice as an ornamental tree in a small urban yard, for those who prefer vivid colors. Or as a specimen tree in a botanical garden.

Tri-color beeches are out of place in a leafy green urban park featuring massive trees. Tree People recommends that these trees be phased out as quickly as possible, and replaced with trees that are in keeping with the dignity and stature of Pioneer Park.

norway maples

Norway maples predominate among the trees planted in the last 30 years in Pioneer Park.

These trees achieve a height of only 40 to 60′ and have a shallow root system, They are listed on the Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board “Monitor List.” Citizens are asked to report locations of plants growing outside of ornamental plantings. It is estimated that Pioneer Park currently has dozens of these trees.

See also: Prevention and Control of Norway Maples; NY Invasive Species Information

lost in space

The image above shows Gayle beside a recently planted dogwood. This tree is one of several small trees in an otherwise open area.

This space would easily accommodate a 100′ tree. Or a couple of them.

Stop and consider this space in the year 2075, and imagine how it would feel to stand in awe under a 100′ Atlas Cedar.

Adding new species to the collection

Ulmus ‘Morton’ Accolade Elm

46°16’40.6″N 119°16’28.9″W
46.277948, -119.274699

The lovely stand pictured above can be found in John Dam Plaza in Richland WA, facing the Federal buildings. The Accolade Elm reaches a mature height of 60 – 80 feet, but the classical Elm fountain shape give the impression of a much larger tree and provides precious shade.

Over the years Tree People has offered suggestions of several species that would add diversity and be worthy additions to our urban canopy; the Accolade was among our recommended trees.

We have yet to receive a reply.

Catching up

The following images show a flatbed trailer, at least 40′ – 60′ long, carrying three or four trees. These trees are twenty-five to thirty years old.

There is a general consensus in Walla Walla that planting large trees is not practical. We seem to be stuck with a 2″ caliper rule; plant trees that can be planted by one man and a shovel. But moving and planting sizable trees is a routine transaction for suppliers of big trees.

Over the last 30 to 50 years we have neglected to plant species that will grow to 100′ (with the exception of two London Planetrees that were gifted to the park). Because of this failure, there will be gaps in our canopy 100 years from now, in 2123.

One way to catch up would be to purchase trees that are already 25 to 30 years old when we plant them, like those you see below.


A decade ago Whitman College began inventorying and tagging every tree on campus. Under the guidance of Bob Biles,1 every tree received a specific ID code. An aluminum disc is attached to each tree with an aluminum screw.CC1

Pioneer Park has matured into an impressive, historic park. Now it is ready to move into its second century.

The best way to accomplish that is by creating a new database, as explained by Bob Biles. Our current GIS inventory is riddled with errors. A new inventory would require an investment in a designated computer with tree mapping software, separate from the GIS system.2 The system would be easily accessible by those who would contribute to the database.

Such a system would be scalable to include data on every tree, such as notes on the tree’s health and cultural conditions. It could also be used to generate and host all-weather QR code tags, which would enable students, tourists, and citizen tree lovers to access details about the tree on their mobile device.3


Tree People of Walla Walla has spent the last four months searching for the right individual to help guide Pioneer Park into the next century. After contacting numerous people we believe Sarah Low has the KSA’s (knowledge, skills, and aptitude) to work with the Walla Walla community.

Strategic Nature, LLC is a Washington State certified women-owned business led by Sarah C. Low, a business management consultant, ecologist, educator, and mindfulness teacher with 20 years of experience in government, non-profit, and private sectors. [Strategic Nature helps] organizations find adaptive solutions to address changing conditions and identify sustainable and meaningful actions to help realize their goals.

“It might seem broad to talk about program development and plant procurement in the same space, but environmental sustainability is broad, and it requires that we understand the complexities of the biological, cultural, and social context where we work. Using a holistic approach, an ecosystem approach, allows us to see the interconnectedness of issues and better address the challenges in front of us.

Collectively, we have a lot of work to do to care and sustain the world around us. Let’s do it together.”


Richland, Pasco, Wenatchee, and other cities in Eastern Washington have urban park master plans. Spokane’s park Master Plan, adopted in June 2022, is especially instructive. Tree People circulated a draft proposal for the Pioneer Park Master Plan (PPMP) to the Walla Walla community during Fall 2022.

We have withdrawn that proposal (though it is still available upon request). We believe that drafting and implementing a full PPMP, one that incorporates ideas on this web page, would be among the first tasks of the qualified consultant chosen to guide Pioneer Park into the next century.


  1. Whitman College Tree ID and tagging program; interview with Bob Biles
  2. Such as TreePlotter Software Suite.
  3. The obvious roadblock to such a database is the question of manpower and knowledge. One possible solution would be to make use of a skilled professional, in addition to a team of experienced, knowledgeable volunteer data collectors. We do not recommend using student volunteers.

Changes and Corrections

  1. Dec 6 2022: “Stainless Steel screws” corrected to aluminum

other notes

It might be argued that PRUFAB (Parks & Recreation Urban Forestry Advisory Board) could play a role in the future of Pioneer Park. This is unlikely, as PRUFAB is not empowered to set their own agenda nor to reach out for specialized expertise.

Related pages

NOTE: Please feel free to circulate this page as widely as possible to anyone who may be interested in the future of Pioneer Park.