Landmark Live Oak a sight to see in Rio Frio

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Jacob West|Bartlett Tree Experts
Representatives from Bartlett Tree Experts and the Texas A&M Forest Service gather around the Rio Frio Oak, which was named State Live Oak Champion in 1988 and National Champion in 1989.

The following column was written by Gabriela Steinkamp, ​​administrative assistant for Bartlett Tree Experts of San Antonio.

Hundreds of years ago a small oak tree grew less than a mile from what would later be known as the Frio River in Texas.

The beautiful live oak has grown stronger over the years, surviving and thriving through droughts, storms, neighboring settlements and mass tourists. Now one of the largest living oaks in all of Texas, the tree has a circumference of about 295 inches, a height of 52 feet, and a coverage of nearly 100 feet. It was named State Live Oak Champion in 1988 and National Champion in 1989. Although it has since been dethroned by another tree, the Rio Frio Oak remains a beautiful local landmark with a rich history.

Settlers began to develop the city of Rio Frio around this tree right after the end of the American Civil War. The Lombardy Trading Company built an irrigation ditch nearby in 1866, which remains one of the oldest still in use today in Texas. Due to its large size, the oak became a fulcrum for the construction of the entire city. The tree’s broad branches shaded the town’s first school, which also served as a community center that hosted elections, church services, a courthouse, and various social gatherings.

In 1929, Mr. Leo L. Slover purchased the property on which Oak lived. According to a newspaper report from the time announcing the sale, an on-site house and store were also added “for good measure”. Three generations later, the same family owns and cares for the property, led by matriarch Judy Newman. Over 20 years ago, Judy contacted Mark Duff of the Texas Forest Service to figure out how to best maintain the Rio Frio Landmark Oak.

Mark knew the family would need the best team to provide all the pruning and plant health care needed to keep the tree strong and safe for years to come. He enlisted Bartlett Tree Experts, and we’ve been helping to care for the tree ever since. Every few years, arborist representatives from the San Antonio office and an elite team of mountaineers donate their time to the Texas Forest Service to work on the oak. Services include pruning, bracing, fertilizing, dead wood removal and mulching.

Our last visit was last February.

A sunny day with clear skies and 68 degree weather provided the perfect opportunity for some of our team members to get up in that oak tree. San Antonio Arborist Team Leaders Chris Maciel, Javier Rivas, Gustavo Rodriguez and Antonio Tovar worked safely and efficiently to clear the tree and prune it away from the roof of the house. Arborist representatives Bobby Hearne and Jacob West and Texas Forest Service Urban Forester Mark Kroeze provided field support, dragging the cuts to the chipper. Mark Duff of the Texas Forest Service and arborist representative Tony Villanueva were also on hand to provide support and supervision.

Throughout the day, neighbors came to admire the tree and reminisce about their childhood in Rio Frio. They told stories about the general store next to the big oak tree which closed in 1965. They remembered the family who lived in the house under the tree and the bed and breakfast they once opened next door. It was amazing to hear how this tree has always been part of the fabric of the community.

After our crew finished tending the trees, Judy and her family treated us to a barbecue lunch on the property with homemade bread, brisket, salads, corn, cookies, cakes and pies . It was the perfect end to a rewarding day and a way to create new memories under the canopy of this legendary oak tree.


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