Steamtown Lot Still ‘a Little Barren’ After Beetle Infesttation

September 3, 2018

SCRANTON — Visitors to Steamtown National Historic Site for this weekend’s Railfest 2018 may have noticed something missing from the parking lot.

Scores of somethings, actually.

Since last fall, the National Park Service has taken down about 100 dead or dying ash trees in and around the lot after discovering they were infested by the emerald ash borer.

“We had to remove most of them,” Steamtown Superintendent Debbie Conway acknowledged. “It’s a little barren compared to what it was.”

Although the borer managed to wipe out the historic site’s ash in a relatively short period of time, Conway said replacing the trees lost to the invasive beetle will be a multiyear process.

Steamtown has planted some shrubs in the parking lot and plans to purchase and plant a few replacement trees later this fall, she said.

It comes down to cost, she said.

“We’re having to phase this in,” she said. “We’re buying them when we can. Cutting down the trees and replacing all of them wasn’t planned in our budget process, so we’re kind of phasing them as funding allows.”

The emerald ash borer, which is native to Asia, was initially discovered in the United States in 2002 in Michigan. It was found in western Pennsylvania in 2007 and was documented in Lackawanna County for the first time in 2016. Once the bug moves into an area, the ash mortality is close to 100 percent.

Steamtown officials noticed last summer many of the ash trees in its parking lot appeared unhealthy, with dying canopies, and thought the borer might be responsible. A U.S. Forest Service biologist did an evaluation and confirmed their suspicions.

In replacing the parking lot trees, Conway said Steamtown won’t make the same mistake it did originally, when someone decided to plant mostly ash.

“We are going to mix the variety of species so that — and I hate to say it — when the next blight comes through, it doesn’t wipe them all out in one fell swoop,” she said.

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