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

Published On: May 01 2013 08:37:36 PM CDT   Updated On: May 01 2013 09:12:18 PM CDT

Channel3000.com

FORT ATKINSON, Wis. -

A 150-year-old oak tree is scheduled to be torn down to make way for the Highway 26 bypass project.

At more than 50 feet tall, it's hard not to notice it along Highway 26 near the county line between Jefferson and Rock counties. To some it's just a tree but to others it's a symbol of hope because it's weathered so many storms.

"The tree's just so old and so beautiful," Christy Thorman-McCarville said.

Saving the massive bur oak -- trees known for their thick bark and for fire resistance -- has become a passion for the Jefferson County woman.

She's one of several folks in the Rock and Jefferson county communities petitioning online to save the tree from becoming a casualty of the Highway 26 bypass.

"Every day I drive past it and I feel like it's become a part of who I am," Thorman-McCarville said.

Mary Ann Buenzow is a forestry team leader for the Department of Natural Resources, but the state agency isn't taking a position on whether or not the tree should stay.

"I consider it a survivor," Buenzow said. "It's unique [in] its beauty because it has a nearly perfectly symmetrical crown, which is about a 100-foot crown spread in all directions."

Buenzow said the tree is native to the area dating back to pre-settlement era.

"I understand trees need to be cut down; that's forestry and that's what I do for a living, but it's just kind of sad to see a particular tree you get attached to going," Buenzow said.

The forester said a bur oak can live more than 300 years but she's not sure if this tree could survive if it were moved. The Department of Transportation hasn't set a specific date to remove the tree.

In a statement, a spokesman with the DOT, Michael Bie, said the department considered options other than removing the tree during the environmental impact process, which he said is required before construction. He said the highway couldn't move west due to the Glacial River Bike Trail and old Highway 26. Moving the project east would impact agricultural land and wetland areas. He said wetlands are protected under state and federal statutes but trees are not.

"Relocation was cost-prohibitive with the possibility that the tree wouldn't survive," Bie wrote. He said the department doesn't have a date set for removal but that it is expected to be removed within the month. Bie said sections of the tree will be preserved for use by the county but did not specify how they would be used.

Some folks have already bid farewell to the tree but Thorman-McCarville isn't ready to give up on preserving the piece of history.

"I know that it's all in the name of progress -- I just hope that someday people will realize once it's taken away, it doesn't come back,"  Thorman-McCarville said.

For more information on the petition head to the Change.org page.

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