Cherry trees planted by volunteers along Catonsville road found sliced, damaged

Alex DeMetrick reports

Flowering cherry trees stretching half-a-mile along the median of Edmondson Avenue in Catonsville were found deliberately damaged this week and Baltimore County police say they have no suspects.

Five of the 32 Kwanzan trees planted by the Catonsville Tree Canopy Project were dead when James Himel, the group's director, arrived with a fellow volunteer Monday morning to water them.


Himel said he called the police after he determined every tree had been hit. The other 27 trees are "severely injured," but still alive, he said, although 10 are showing signs of poisoning.

The cost to replace all of the trees could top $15,000.

The trunk of a damaged tree cherry tree along the Edmondson Avenue median.
The trunk of a damaged tree cherry tree along the Edmondson Avenue median. (Courtesy photo/Catonsville Tree Canopy)

Some trees had branches "lopped off so badly they looked like Charlie Brown trees," while others had "suspicious markings" at the base, said Louise Rogers, a county police spokeswoman.

The vandalism to the 15-foot-tall trees probably occurred over the weekend, at night or early in the morning, she said.

The trees were planted from the CVS Pharmacy to the Junction Station Cafe, a mostly residential neighborhood that includes businesses, Rogers said.

Himel said he suspects the perpetrator sliced around the trunk of every tree using a knife, as the cuts were "surgical" instead of having the rough marks from a saw. The perpetrator also drilled a half-inch diameter hole into each tree, Himel said, adding that the only purpose of that is to put herbicide inside.

"Never before have we had such a malicious destruction of trees the community volunteers have planted," said Himel, a 65-year old Catonsville resident. "To me, when I Google and look for a definition of 'terrorism,' this certainly is."

Catonsville Tree Canopy Project volunteers are working to plant and maintain 1,000 trees by 2020. Now in its eighth year, the project has planted about 700 trees, Himel said.

Most of the damaged trees were planted about two years ago, and are of the same variety as trees along the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., which attract hundreds of thousands of tourists when the pink blossoms peak in the spring.

For the Catonsville Tree Canopy Project, "It's more than just planting trees," Himel said. "It really is a nice little bit of natural and, if you will, patriotic history."

The group is funded through donations and grants, and the cost of replacing all 32 trees would be about $500 per tree, Himel said. The volunteers will try to replace any they can't save.

To help the trees rebound from the damage, the group plans to increase watering from once a week to once every three days. The dead trees have been removed. .

"We didn't want to give this guy the satisfaction of being able to drive down the road … and gloat over five dead trees," Himel said.