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Tribute to a tree

Marie Havenga • Jul 10, 2018 at 9:00 AM

SPRING LAKE — About 20 people met in front of the Spring Lake Intermediate School on Monday evening to discuss how best to memorialize the stately red oak tree there that is slated to be cut down this summer.

Ideas ranged from a plaque with tree memories, making four benches from the wood (one for each Spring Lake school), making study tables from the wood, planting new trees to honor the tree, putting a piece of the tree in a trophy case, cutting a cross-section from the trunk and detailing village and American history in the rings, and commissioning an artist to make a drawing of the tree that could later be used as a logo for the village.

Three separate arborist reports have confirmed the tree is in declining health and could pose a danger to humans.

In 2015, as plans for a new drop-off lane at the school surfaced, it became clear the 150-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 has become 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.

Despite an outlandish opening to Monday’s community engagement meeting — an out-of-town man became very vocal, making claims that the tree had rare electrical frequencies and that the village was trying to hide something in the soil underneath it — the gathering turned serious and sensible once he got into the passenger seat of a waiting vehicle and departed.

Residents voiced their opinions about how best to pay tribute to the tree, but no one insisted on leaving the stump or making a carving out of it.

Expressing deep regret for the decision they had to make, Spring Lake Village Council members last month unanimously approved authorizing up to $2,180 for Summit Tree Service to remove the tree. That quote included leaving the stump of the tree for a potential future carving or bench, but community members didn't express strong support for either idea.

Spring Lake Public Schools Superintendent Dennis Furton has expressed that the district would like the tree cut down with no trace.

In an email Furton sent to Village Manager Christine Burns on Monday afternoon, he reiterated that the Spring Lake school board respectfully requests the following:

(1) Remove the tree, including the stump, at the soonest possible date as it poses a hazard to passersby and district property.

(2) Leave no remnant of the tree.

(3) Remove the curb “bump out” that was required to accommodate the Village Council's decision to keep the tree.

(4) Straighten the curb in conjunction with the rest of the entry drive and patch asphalt as needed.

(5) Restore the site from any damage incurred from the removal of the tree.

Furton was present at Monday's gathering and repeated the desire to remove the tree as soon as possible.

Following the community session at the tree, the Village Council met at the Village Hall for its regularly scheduled work session. There, council members said they felt their marching orders were clear cut, no pun intended.

Village President Mark Powers said he loves the idea of taking a thinly sliced cross-section from the tree trunk to detail history during the tree's growth and displaying it at Village Hall, Spring Lake District Library or another appropriate location.

The current plan is to cut down the tree, at the village’s expense, prior to the start of the 2018-19 school year. Portions of the tree will be preserved and stored as the wood seasons.

Although there's no rush to make a final decision on how to memorialize the tree, there is urgency to remove it for safety reasons. But a memorial tribute, and potential artist's rendering of the tree, is part of the plan.

Powers said the slab could show the ring growth from when Abraham Lincoln was president and when the Civil War broke out, and also chronicle local history in the tree's long life.

Council members agreed Monday that they will honor the school district’s first two requests, but numbers 3-5 are off the table.

Councilman Mark Miller said the school district's construction of a drop-off lane essentially killed the tree, just as arborists predicted it would.

“They showed the tree no respect,” Miller said.

Powers said it's a small town, but “we're all neighbors.”

“We all care for each other deeply, but we occasionally disagree,” the village president said. “They (school district) presented their plans at the very end saying, 'We're going to cut down the tree.'”

Councilman Michael Duer said council listened to the people.

“We're here to serve the people and we did what they asked,” Duer said of attempts to save the tree.

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