SWANBURG - For hundreds of years it withstood loggers, storms, droughts and disease. But can it withstand the Crow Wing County Highway Department?
A large white pine near Crow Wing County Road 1 in Timothy Township is slated for removal due to its proximity to the road and power lines. It's not the first time, said Mary Kay Hanson, on whose 22 acres the tree stands. She marks the stages of her life by all the times the tree has been threatened with removal.
In the early 1970s, when Hanson was a teenager, she and her sister wrapped their arms around the tree as a cutting crew approached. In the 1980s she defended the tree again with her new husband, Peter Hanson, now deceased.
Monday, county workers tied the telltale orange ribbon around the tree's gnarled bark, the latest sign that its days could be numbered. Hanson saw the ribbon and felt old, buried emotions well to the surface.
This white pine in Timothy Township towers over Crow Wing County Road 1, posing a potential threat to motorists should it fall. For that reason, the county highway department and Crow Wing Power intend to cut it down, angering area residents who are fond of the tree. Brainerd Dispatch/Vince Meyer» Purchase reprints of this photo.
"It's sad, really," Hanson said. "I don't know why they keep wanting to cut it down. It's been here forever, it has a great history and it's healthy."
Or is it?
DNR foresters in Brainerd will inspect the tree this week. Five years ago an ice storm lopped off a huge limb that today lies nearby in the ditch. The tree stands more than 150 feet tall and measures 14 feet in circumference. It leans north over County Road 1, giving credence to county highway department claims that it poses a danger to motorists. And if the tree collapsed it would knock down power lines.
But to Hanson and other supporters, those concerns are dwarfed by what the towering pine symbolizes.
"That's my climbing tree," said Dodo Fraser, an 80-year-old Crosslake resident who grew up down the road from the tree. "We called it the Spring Brook tree. My little brother and I put up boards so we could reach the first branch. From the top we could see Whitefish Lake and Trout Lake."
Fraser, who works for the Crosslake Historical Society, said the tree was left by 19th century loggers because it had a twin top. An old Indian footpath leading from Whitefish Lake to Leech Lake passed just west of the tree. Later, it served as a "post office" for early settlers, who used the tree to post messages on their whereabouts, death and birth notices and presidential election banners.
Two Crosslake residents who have special memories of the big pine near Crow Wing County Road 1 that's slated for removal are Mary Kay Hanson (left) and Dodo Fraser. Brainerd Dispatch/Vince Meyer » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Crow Wing Power officials were not aware of the historical significance of the tree, said Chris Olander, resource and planning coordinator.
"This isn't our call," Olander said. "We won't do anything until we hear back from the (DNR). We don't want to remove a historical landmark, but if the wind knocks it down it'll go down, historical landmark or not."
Duane Blanck, Crow Wing County highway engineer, was out of town Tuesday and could not be reached for comment. Jeff Gildart, Crow Wing County highway maintenance supervisor, said he had not heard of any plans to remove the tree.
Meanwhile at Crosslake Community School, 8-year-old Katie Hanson is circulating a petition in her third-grade class to save the tree she already loves.
"I told her, 'It's your responsibility to keep this tree alive throughout your lifetime,'" said Mary Kay Hanson.
VINCE MEYER can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5862.
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