150-year-old oak tree to come down for highway
JANESVILLE, Wis. (AP) — A 150-year-old oak tree that has been a landmark in southern Wisconsin will be taken down to make way for a highway expansion.
The tree sits just north of the Rock-Jefferson county line in Janesville and is in the way of a planned state Highway 26 expansion between Milton and Fort Atkinson. Local residents said they were dismayed that it would be cut down.
“I understand it is progress in some people’s eyes,” Mary Ann Buenzow said. “We all want to drive safely from point A to point B.”
As a forester for almost three decades, Buenzow also said she understood that thinning trees in a forest opens space for new life to grow.
Still, she and other Janesville residents have been working to try to save the old oak tree, which has a wide-open crown and elegant symmetry of branches. They recently learned, however, that cutting it down is the only real option. Trying to move it to another location would cost at least $200,000 and require strict liability coverage.
“Everything began feeling pretty insurmountable,” Buenzow said. “And the tree may or may not survive such a move.”
State officials told the Janesville Gazette that moving the highway also was not an option.
“We looked into the possibility,” said Mark Vesperman, project manager with the state Department of Transportation. “But if we moved the road, it impacted more trees, wetlands and more agricultural land.”
Wood harvested from the tree could be used for many purposes. The Jefferson County Parks Department has requested a slab of the trunk, possibly to put on the bike trail along Highway 26 north from the Rock County line.
“It is still uncertain how we will use it,” said Joe Nehmer, of the parks department. “But we don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to have part of this magnificent tree.”
It still is uncertain when the tree will come down. Buenzow has recorded its dimensions and is thinking about ways to pay tribute to its legacy.
“Somehow, I think this tree will pass with the same gentle dignity with which it lived,” Buenzow said. “We can all learn from that.”
Information from: The Janesville Gazette, http://www.gazetteextra.com
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