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150-year-old oak tree to come down for highway

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 project. (AP Photo/The Janesville Gazette)

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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  1. What a shame that intelligent people cannot find an alternative solution to destroying an important resource and landmark. Once again, we’re “paving paradise to put up a parking lot.”

  2. rmarquardt@segwi.com

    Really? We must have run out of problems, that a single tree becomes a highlighted concern…if only I had so much extra time on my hands!

  3. @rmarquardt@segwi.com
    Spoken like a true Wisconsonite that doesn’t appreciate natural beauty and historic significance. May your antiquated conservative opinions sink, along with this state, so that the rest of us can thrive without you weighing down our economy. Breath deep and exhale your hatred; than attempt to warm up your cold heart.

  4. What’s the historical significance of this specific tree? I don’t see the Historic Society rushing to save it or anything. Maybe you should relocate it to your front yard and bronze it to preserve this historically significant, brave hero tree for future generations to appreciate. The tree is near the end of its life anyway and I bet you could get a certain Milwaukee chairwoman to do the hatchet job on it for you.

  5. It looks like a beautiful tree, to hang a memorial wreath, or prop up a cross against it, after one of our loved ones, slides off the road, hits it head on, and goes to meet their maker. I love tree’s as much as anyone, but Let’s prioritize what\who we love more.

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