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Century-old oak tree faces removal

Marie Havenga • May 24, 2018 at 12:00 PM

SPRING LAKE — As children wind down the school year at Spring Lake Intermediate School, a stately tree that greets them every morning in the drop-off lane is preparing for a final goodbye.

In 2015, as plans for a new drop-off lane at the school surfaced, it became clear the 100-plus-year-old red oak would be in the way. After much public discussion, it was decided to let the tree attempt to live, despite destructive construction that was likely to damage its root system.

Three years and three arborist recommendations later, it's becoming clear the tree must go. Its leaves are growing thin, its root system has indeed been damaged, and it can't soak up enough water and nutrients with all the asphalt that has been poured around it.

Spring Lake Village Council has authorized Village Manager Chris Burns to seek bids for removing the tree.

It's a sad decision for many, including Village Councilman Mark Miller, who attended Spring Lake schools and fondly remembers seeking shade in the stately tree's shadow. Now, Miller is one of seven votes who will ultimately decide the tree's fate.

“There is a feeling of sadness surrounding the decision we face,” he said. “This was a truly beautiful village-owned tree. We knew this might happen. As a council member, I have a clear conscience. We did our part. We listened to and respected the wishes of a large number of citizens and alumni who wanted this tree saved.”

Miller said he has his own personal memories to deal with.

“As someone who attended school there, it was an integral part of the day — the only big tree around,” he said. “I walked or rode my bike by it, stood or sat under it waiting to be picked up. It was a great source of shade on a warm day.”

Arborists have determined the tree's failing health could cause dead limbs to fall, endangering human life.

“We've had three different reviews by two different arborists,” Burns said. “They all say the same thing — that the tree absolutely has to come down.”

The Village Tree Board also reviewed the documentation and concurred with the recommendation.

“It's a liability at this point,” Burns said. “We've tried root feedings and all sorts of different things to save the tree, and it's been fruitless. We have to be cognizant of the liability. It's a danger to the kids over there. We're seeing a lot of die-back. It only takes one strong wind and you could lose a limb and have damage to property or people. We would hate to see that happen.”

When the tree comes down, Burns said she would like it to leave some sort of lasting legacy — such as an educational tool for children to count tree rings, a carving, a bench or something crafted from its wood. She plans to host a community engagement meeting to generate ideas for what happens with the stump/wood from the tree.

“It's not that it wasn't predicted,” Burns said of the tree's health after the drop-off lane construction. “We tried our best to do what we could to save the tree. I'm not sure there's anything left to do except to make sure we're cognizant of the tree canopy.”

Burns said she expects the tree to be removed this summer. The village will pay for the removal.

“Three times the tree board has recommended removal and two times council has voted against it,” Burns said. “Council gave me direction to get pricing on taking the tree down and carving the base, a carving by the same person who did the (Spring Lake Laker) carving at the southeast corner of Jackson and Exchange.”

Council will make a final decision at its June 18 meeting.

Dennis Furton, the superintendent of the Spring Lake school district, said the tree will be missed.

“It's a beautiful tree that has greeted visitors and students on a daily basis for 50-plus years,” he said. “It's hard to imagine what the entrance will look like without that tree there to provide shade or a break from the rain.”

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