Man carving wood with chainsaw.

Stop by Hidden Oaks Nature Center, and you quickly identify the triumph that came from tragedy.  It’s an inspiring, 10-foot-tall animal sculpture carved from the remains of a mighty, 100-foot poplar tree that was once the focal point of the center’s woodland view and served as a feeding station for flying squirrels and many bird species.  The 125-year-old tree had been twice struck by lightning and became an imminent danger to the building.

Carvings of animals in dead tree.

“It leaned toward the nature center, and the county arborist said it needed to come down because it was dead,” said Friends of Hidden Oaks President Kevin Holland.  “We asked if we could save the bottom 10-foot snag for a sculpture because it was still in good shape, and the arborist said it was okay.”

The Friends group immediately started fundraising, and the idea for the woodland animal tree sculpture quickly took root throughout the community. Even the chainsaw artist, Andrew Mallon, was inspired by the community’s enthusiasm and suggested creating an accompanying bench from another section of the tree to complement the sculpture, which was completed in time for the center’s 50th anniversary celebration in October 2019.

“His artwork came from the heart, and it is so cool,” Holland said enthusiastically.  “One of the kids who was watching him carve the sculpture asked, ‘Can you put butterflies on it?’  He added four or five butterflies, and he carved the bench with a racoon at the end of the log, and a foxhole with foxes looking out at you.”

Children stand around carved tree.

It took the Friends group just five months to raise $11,000 from private donations, the Bailey’s Crossroads Rotary Club and a $2,500 matching Mastenbrook grant.  It was more than enough to pay for both the tree sculpture and the bench through the Fairfax County Park Foundation, and the balance will be used to maintain the sculpture for the next 20 years.

“When you see it, it’s a wild moment,” Holland said.  “It’s a destination tree – a fabulous experience.”