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Volunteers preserve historic apple trees

Trees thought to be 120 years old, still producing fruit

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A group of volunteers recently took to the small but resilient orchard of the Lucas Homestead, located on Castlewood Canyon State Park near Franktown, hunting for apple tree scions.

Their mission: to preserve and expand the historic apple orchard on the site. Scions are cuttings of young shoots on trees taken for the purpose of creating new root stock, so more trees can be planted.

The apple trees comprising the Lucas Homestead orchard are thought to be 120 years old. Despite their age, the trees still produce apples of at least three varieties. From the new plantings, volunteers also hope to identify precisely what varieties grow on the homestead.

The original apple trees were likely planted by the Lucas family when they homesteaded the property in 1894, possibly with saplings from another historic site in Douglas County, the Lambert Orchard Company, established in 1896 near Sedalia.

The Lucas Homestead orchard holds a special sentiment for Ron Claussen, a volunteer naturalist with Castlewood Canyon State Park and former park employee who’s taken an interest in researching the orchard’s history.

He explains the placement of the trees on the Lucas property, where they sit to the east of the family’s home on a slope, was strategic to ensure water drained to the orchard, the trees would receive adequate sunlight and that they’d receive wind protection.

“So, they would hopefully survive,” he said.

Bases on his knowledge of the homesteaders’ lifestyles, he imagines how the Lucas family would have picked the apples for cooking pies, cobblers or other recipes that were “a real treat for them.”

Claussen said the effort to plant new trees comes at an important time. The orchard lost two trees this past year to blight issues, bringing the total trees down to seven. The volunteers hope to grow that number back to 10 or 11 trees once the grafting process is complete.

“They all have been very stressed over 100 years,” he said. “When the experts come out, they talk about how amazing it is that they’re actually still alive.”

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