Majestic live oak trees are as much a part of the natural landscape on Hilton Head Island as cordgrass in the salt marshes and towering loblolly pines.
But few of the more than 2 million tourists annually – and probably few locals – know anything about live oaks other than that they are big and beautiful.
“These trees are very special, and people take them for granted,” said John Parsons, a Sea Pines resident since 2009 and a retired landscape architect. “They drive by them all day and don’t know about them, so it was an educational idea. The purpose is to teach people about the trees.”
“It” is the Sea Pines Legacy Oak Program. Parsons and a handful of fellow members of Sea Pines Community Services Associates (CSA) launched the program in July to celebrate, protect, preserve, enhance and interpret these trees.
With the help of a tree consultant, 20 healthy live oaks, on public property in 15 locations strategically rooted on the plantation’s 5,200 acres, were designated for the program. The trees range from 45 to 90 feet high, with trunks from 28 to 80 inches in diameter, and are between 110 and 350 years old.
Each tree’s nickname, the estimated date that it was planted, and the program logo are carved into wooden benches placed at each site.
“Our centerpiece is called Six Oaks, and they were planted in about 1665,” said Parsons, who retired in 2008 after spending 40 years with the National Park Service in Washington, D.C. He was the associate regional director in charge of all design and construction of 25 national memorials there.
Six Oaks Park, where the six evergreens line up in two rows of three, is located behind Six Oaks Cemetery.
The idea of an oak legacy program sprouted last spring within the CSA, and its board of directors approved $50,000 in start-up funding last September. For the next nine months, Parsons and his small team planned, initiated and launched the initiative. Initial pruning of the trees cost $30,000.
On the program website, www.seapineslegacyoaks.org, viewers will be linked to an informative pamphlet and trail map highlighting the history, location, size and age of each of the 20 live oaks. A bicycle tour of the trail takes a little more than three hours.
For Parsons, the essence of the program is simple: “These trees are the signature of the South, there’s no doubt about it. That’s why we picked them.”
Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer living in Bluffton.