Thomas Woltz stunned the audience Monday night at the 20th Annual Landscape Design Portfolio Lecture Series. He said we weren’t going to like what he was about to say. He was right. We were shocked. Perhaps, some people in the audience are still suffering from PTSD. What Woltz proposed jolted the audience. Double whammy or not, the idea of planting thousands of trees and deliberately cutting them down 25 years later was a bombshell.
Thomas Woltz of Nelson Byrd Woltz is one of the darlings of the landscape architecture world. No matter the project, his firm does extensive research into the history of the site. As he said “the soil holds our history…the landscape is a record of untold stories…Our firm is at the interface of ecology and culture”. And that made it, that much harder, to hear his plans for the Houston’s Memorial Park Grove.
Memorial Park is approximately 16,000 acres. Part of the park was once Camp Logan, the site of an army camp and the last stop for many soldiers before they shipped out to Europe to fight in WWI.
The plans for the Memorial Grove section of this new park is specifically aimed at “…a memorial, in perpetuity, connecting us to the cycles of life, connecting us to the power of life, the beauty of these trees representing these individuals who were felled far, far, too early”. Thomas Woltz
“So, twenty-five years from the planting of the Memorial Groves, imagine one of those regiments–a thousand trees–ceremonially chainsawed down on Memorial Day. The noise, the impact, the violence, the horror of seeing a thousand trees felled at once in a city’s park will be something you will never forget. And you just might feel, in your body, the sense and the power of sacrifice and of loss of life.” Thomas Woltz
The tree to be “sacrificed” is the loblolly pine. According to The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, the loblolly pine can reach a height of 60-110 ft. It is the fastest growing of all southern pines. It is extensively planted for lumber. “Twenty-five years is the average age of the solider that died in World War I who trained at Camp Logan. Twenty-five years is the age of maturity for loblolly pines in the timber industry,” Thomas Woltz
In addition, the timber from the felled trees will be given to Habitat for Humanity to build affordable housing in the Houston area. Armistice Day, will be a day to replant the thousand felled trees for another twenty-five year cycle. Every five years, a new group of trees would be felled.
Woltz does a great deal of research for any the projects he works on. In writing this blog I came across a bit of history related to Camp Logan. In 1917, black soldiers at the camp were involved in the Houston Riot, a riot triggered by the belief that a fellow soldier was being unfairly incarcerated in the city of Houston.
On December 11, thirteen black soldiers were summarily hung at a hastily constructed gallows near a shallow creek on Camp Travis, a National Guard training facility next to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. The men were unceremoniously buried nearby in graves whose only identification was a number, 1 through 13. Sixty-three other soldiers were given life sentences,and in September 1918 six more soldiers were hung at the same Camp Travis site.
For certain members of the Houston community, the creation of the Memorial Grove on the site of Camp Logan, might be remembered for entirely different reasons.
20th Annual Lanscape Design Portfolio Lecture Series:
An Interface of Ecology and Culture
Monday, November 5, 2018