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Six Diseased Willows to Be Removed from Hawkins Pond

For the second time in the history of the college, natural decay is forcing SUNY Plattsburgh to give the area around Hawkins Pond a facelift.

Hawkins Pond is an iconic fixture on the SUNY Plattsburgh campus, well known to recent generations of alumni and students for its fountain and ring of willow trees. Members of the campus and local community often go there to relax, study, have lunch or watch ducks navigate the waters.

Over the next couple of weeks, however, six of those willows will need to be removed for safety reasons.

In 2009, college officials warned that all of the willow trees were decaying because of damage from the 1998 ice storm. Several were removed at that time, and officials indicated that the others would eventually need to come down.

Since then, the willows have exhibited more decay each year, and officials have become increasingly concerned about the hazard they present to passers-by.

Previous generations of faculty, staff and students knew a pond surrounded by elm trees. Those trees had been there since the college’s founding in 1889 but succumbed to Dutch elm disease in the 1960s.

At that time, willows were chosen as a replacement because they are fast growing. That characteristic, however, may have been the trees’ undoing.

Because they grow so fast, willows have soft wood. That softness makes the trees less sturdy. As a result, they often have shorter life spans than other tree varieties.

"The willows are beautiful, and it is sad to see them go,” SUNY Plattsburgh President John Ettling said. “But they are old and diseased and pose a real threat to the hundreds of people who walk under them on a normal day. We will find something to replace them that in time will become just as beautiful.”

Officials at the college said landscaping will begin as early as next spring, although a date has not yet been determined. 

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