In September of 2022, several of Heartwood Tree’s Arborists had the unique opportunity to prune, root prune and update lightning protection in a more than 360 year old (estimated) Live Oak, Quercus Virginiana,  situated along the SeaPines Resort, Hilton Head Island Harbour Town’s “Liberty Oak” is where Charles Fraser, conservationist and visionary developer of Hilton Head, was laid to rest.  

Working in this majestic living creature would naturally present numerous issues of consideration to the Arborists tasked with caring for it.   This is a heavily touristed memorial park and town area, with frequent visitors and photographers.  The tree itself rises from the ground over the resting place and memorial sculpture of Charles E. Fraser, which would need to be protected with reverence during the work.  The tree and park are located adjacent to Harbour Town, which was filled with Super Yachts and SailBoats during the progress of the tree maintenance.  Great care would need to be taken to protect the numerous vessels  just beyond the branch tips of the massive tree.

Our crew, Isaac Basson, Dustin Urbanovsky, Bill Hickman, and Casey Diffley assessed the unique job site and quickly came up with a plan to address the Liberty Oak’s needs.  They got right to work carefully setting numerous access ropes, and worked as a team to safely rig out any removed limbs, with protecting the area from damage as their main priority.  Then they began the process of rerouting new lightning protection, thin copper wiring run to the tips of the leaders and safely grounded at the root flare. Our Plant Health Care Specialist utilized our AirSpade technology to decompact the root structure just below the surface of the ground surrounding the Historic Tree. 

Bill Hickman, ISA Certified Arborist, CTSP and TRAQ, Installs Lightning Protection to the long, graceful, moss covered limbs of the Liberty Oak while aloft.

Casey Diffley, ISA Certified Arborist and TRAQ, gets a bit dirty while using an Air Spade to release the compacted roots of the Liberty Oak and provide it room to feed and grow.

Dustin Urbanovsky, ISA Certified Arborist, CTSP, TRAQ, floats through the historic limbs while positioning himself for pruning.  Bill Hickman observes aloft for safety.

Naturally, when our expert staff returned to our Headquarters in Charlotte, our team members were all quite curious about the work and experience of working in one of the most beautiful Southern communities on the East Coast.  What challenges and distractions were present in this working environment, and how did they mitigate those risks?  How did the age and history of the

tree and park affect their work?  Would they all abandon the City of Charlotte now that they had experienced Island life? Below are some of the responses that we received from our returning Arborists!

Casey Diffley, ISA Certified Arborist, TRAQ

Any job provides distractions (mansions, cars, lakes, street performers), so after the initial look it was more of a point of break conversations than anything else, and beautiful scenery never hurts daily morale. As for safety, the same boundaries we normally work under still apply and our safety training worked in both training and active situations. 

Ultimately all trees have an expected lifespan given their lifetime care and environment. We’ve dealt with mature trees as well as trees on the edge of decline and our experiences with that gave us perspective on how to minimize injury or stress on the Liberty Oak while still completing the task. 

No bright sign, tape, clue of an active worksite, or obvious danger will stop a dedicated tourist from trying to get the best angle for their picture. Stay on your toes at all times, the best customer service is keeping people safe. 

When thinking about my ideal place to root down…

My parent tree would be wherever my friends and family are, but I’d always like to be the seedling in the wind. Home is where the heart is, but rarely does a new perspective come to you.

Isaac Basson, ISA Certified Arborist

 I sold the job when I was on vacation, but felt it was a great opportunity for us to continue to “Help Trees Outlive Humans” – We do not have too many historic trees left in Charlotte, so this was amazing to see.

It was more the significance for me and the meaning of the tree. The person who started it all, Charles Fraser, was buried underneath the tree and that is how much he loved that tree. Updating the lightning protection was the next step to risk mitigation (preserving the historic tree). Lightning protection should be installed more as a risk mitigation, especially for healthy, large, hard to access trees that could be destroyed by a single lightning strike. If you have invested money into a special tree, or value the significance of it, lightning protection would be of benefit.

When thinking about my ideal place to root down…

Cape Town, South Africa

Dustin Urbanovsky, ISA Certified Arborist, CTSP, TRAQ

Visitors to the area were frequent, so establishing a controlled and safe work zone was critical to performing the work. Recognizing the age and significance of the Liberty Oak kept me always aware of protecting the living limbs and preserving the structure. The environment was particularly unique, and very different from our home base in Charlotte.  The tree lived in a different type of soil, sandy and full of understory plants, than we have here, and the salt air and wind have a big effect on the tree’s growth.  The numerous existing support cables throughout the canopy posed a challenge when maneuvering aloft.  Overall, I felt the history of almost 400 years of life for this tree, and I knew that the Oak would have many stories to tell.   

When thinking about my ideal place to root down…

I could definitely imagine myself as a Live Oak, with a long life, witnessing all of the world in progress, through wars and peace.   Harbour Town wouldn’t be a bad place to live and grow, either.

Special Thanks to Independant Protection Consultants, supplier of lightning protection supplies and materials, and also to Jones Brothers Tree Surgeons of Hilton Head, maintenance team for the Liberty Oak.  Also Special Thanks to SeaPines Resort, Harbour Town, for allowing Heartwood Tree to help the Liberty Oak continue to“Outlive Humans”.