Water system timers stolen at arboretum, killing 4 trees

Colleen Williamson/Sun photo


A programmable, automatic watering timer stolen from this hydrant and another in the Parsons Arboretum prevented the attached irrigation hose from delivering water to new trees. The theft and resulting damage caused an estimated loss of more than $600.


Thieves struck again at the Parsons Arboretum, 21st and Briggs, causing hundreds of dollars in damage.

In the summer of 2018, someone stole nine programmable, automatic watering timers from the arboretum, killing trees that equated to thousands of dollars in damage. Nine of the trees killed were memorial trees planted on the west side of the arboretum.

Now, two more timers for the watering system were stolen causing four trees to die so far.

“The timers were off for at least a week and a half or two weeks before we noticed,” arboretum volunteer and board member Ken Ervin said.

Young trees require at least five gallons of water a week. The automatic timers dispense the programmed amount of water on specific days, cutting expenses to operate the arboretum by reducing the time required to manually water plants. When the timers are stolen no water is delivered to the trees, and in the summer heat they can die quickly.

Wooden boxes with locks once hid hydrants and timers, keeping them secure, but Ervin said over time the boxes rotted. Corrugated pipe and caps replaced the boxes, serving to protect the hydrants and controls from being broken but not protecting them from thieves.

Thieves removed the corrugated pipe and stole the controls, then replaced the corrugated pipe over the hydrants so volunteers were unaware of the thievery until they noticed trees dying. By then it was too late to save some of them.

The timers cost about $50 each. The trees, however, cost a minimum of $128 each, and the arboretum would be hard-pressed to replace some of the trees.

“The John Pare maples were expensive. They were perfected by the state of Kansas Forestry Department south of Wichita in their lab. These trees won’t get the scald on the northwest side. They died,” Ervin said.  

The thieves also vandalized fence post stakes holding up trees by bending them over, but Ervin said they were able to fix those.                     

The arboretum, at 21st and Briggs, is a 19-acre park showcasing trees, plants, shrubs and flowers, in addition to a wetlands area, disc golf course, gardens, trails, a gazebo, kitchen, meeting rooms and a visitor/education center.

The non-profit Parsons Arboretum Foundation Inc. and the city of Parsons oversee the arboretum and visitors’ center. The Parsons Arboretum Foundation Inc. supports the ongoing care and continued improvements of the arboretum through donations of charter members, annual member donations and the commitment of hundreds of volunteer hours.

In 2018, Ervin asked for someone to design and donate a box made of metal or another material to secure the hydrants and controls to prevent theft. He received no response.

He is asking again for help.

Anyone who has information about the theft of the controls from the arboretum should call the Parsons Police Department, (620) 421-7060.

Recommended for you