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Old Spring Lake oak will meet its demise

Marie Havenga • Jun 15, 2018 at 12:00 PM

The ancient red oak outside of the Spring Lake Intermediate School is headed for the chopping block.

Expressing deep regret for the decision they had to make, Spring Lake Village Council members Monday night unanimously approved authorizing up to $2,180 for Summit Tree Service to remove the tree.

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

“The tree is nearing the end of its life and should be removed for safety reasons,” said Village President Mark Powers, who noted that he has fond memories of the tree from when he attended Spring Lake Public Schools.

No one spoke during a public hearing Monday on the tree's fate.

“We all love the tree,” Powers said. “I would like to see the actual cutdown time delayed long enough to have community engagement and open it up to ideas about what to do with the wood. We want to make it very honorable for the old thing.”

A Community Engagement meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. July 9 at the tree. In case of rain, the meeting will be moved inside the school. Village Council would like to hear ideas about what to do with the stump and the wood. Ideas bantered about include a bench or a carving.

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'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, experts say.

It's a sad decision for many, including Village Councilman Mark Miller, who fondly remembers seeking shade in the stately tree's shadow as a student.

“This was a truly beautiful village-owned tree,” he said. “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. “Everyone hung out by it, climbed it or rode their bike by it. My Schwinn Continental flew by there plenty of times.”

Powers said the tree was a big part of the village.

“This is a small-town moment,” he said. “It's been a wonderful couple hundred years, or more like 150 years, for the tree. Everyone is sad to see it go. Given what we've been told by the arborists, and because it's near a school, we can't tolerate the potential outcome of a limb falling on parents or students. We felt it was best for all, including perhaps the tree itself at some level, to take the tree down.”

Spring Lake Public Schools Superintendent Dennis Furton 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 (school’s) entrance will look like without that tree there to provide shade or a break from the rain. We'll miss it when it's gone.”

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