Old school oak comes down

Marie Havenga • Aug 9, 2018 at 9:00 AM

SPRING LAKE — It took more than a century and a half for it to grow — but, within a day, it was gone.

Branch by branch and limb by limb, a crew from Summit Tree Service cut down the old red oak in front of Spring Lake Intermediate School on Wednesday. By mid-afternoon, all that remained was a trunk. By late afternoon, no part of the tree remained standing.

There were no spectators and no fond farewells — just the buzz of chain saws; the thumping of massive logs falling onto asphalt below; and the whirring, pulsating hum of a machine mincing branches and logs into tiny, tattered shreds.

Spring Lake Village resident Tim Fuller drove through the Spring Lake Middle School parking lot as the tree was partway down. He stopped for a moment to watch.

“It's too bad this had to happen, but it was dying,” he said. “It would be dangerous to have with kids running around the school. But it's just too bad.”

See related photo gallery: “Spring Lake ancient oak tree cut down.”

Marley Fogel, 16, and Alyssa Fogel, 12, said they don't consider losing the tree a big loss.

“I think it's a good thing, but I don't think it's a big deal to take it down,” said Marley, a Spring Lake High School junior.

Her sister agreed.

“I think it will be nice to have the tree down because it won’t take up so much space,” said Alyssa, a Spring Lake Middle School seventh-grader.

The tree became endangered when the Spring Lake Public Schools’ plans surfaced in 2015 for a new drop-off lane at the intermediate school. Tree experts warned that construction may damage the tree’s root system and more asphalt would rob it of water and nutrients that it needed to survive.

Residents rallied around the tree and, after much community discussion, Spring Lake Village Council decided to give the tree a chance rather than remove it prior to the construction.

After three more-recent arborist studies, it became clear the tree was slowly dying. Its leaves became more sparse and dead limbs more plentiful.

Reluctantly, Village Council voted to remove the tree, because experts predicted it could become a hazard for humans.

Council commissioned local artist Aziza Abbasi to create a 3-by-4-foot painting to memorialize the tree. It will be hung in a yet-to-be-determined prominent community location.

Village Manager Chris Burns visited the site at 4 p.m. Wednesday. “It looks totally different,” she said, looking at all that was left of the tree — a 4.5-foot-diameter stump and large logs.

At its Aug. 13 meeting, the Village Council will hear from a registered forester to learn the cost to dry and mill the lumber from the tree, Burns said.

Council had discussed using some of the larger pieces of wood at a later date to make plaques, tables or even a history slab, showing the tree's rings and what events in history corresponded to that period of growth. But much will depend on cost, according to Burns.

“They'll weigh the cost against how many new trees they could buy,” she said. “We have to be considerate of taxpayer dollars.”

Burns said she's a transplant, so she has no personal memories of the tree, but she said she knows it meant a lot to many people who grew up and attended school in Spring Lake.

“It's a shame to lose any tree this size,” she said. “This tree has seen a lot. But, at the end of the day, safety is paramount. A lot of people pass under this tree every day. I don't think we can put a price on human life.”

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