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Thursday, May 8, 2014 12:01 am

Spare historical trees

Most trees that line Highway 125 and Highway 97 northwest of Springfield toward Ashland and Petersburg, such as this one located west of Salisbury, have been marked for potential removal.

 

The state is considering cutting down some 80-year-old trees northwest of Springfield.

At least 30 trees that live along Highway 125 and Highway 97 northwest of Springfield, en route to Ashland and Petersburg, were painted with orange circles this past winter, which has sparked concern that these pieces of Illinois history are threatened with being removed. As a result, some local residents are asking the state to let the trees live.

Driving along the highways northwest of Springfield, passersby are likely to notice the hawthorns, oaks, ash trees and buckeyes that line the roads surrounded by flat fields. Some of the hawthorns that have been marked with orange dots stand only about 15 to 20 feet tall and many of those marked are more than 20 feet off the side of the highway. A white ash and a green ash across the highway from each other are used for class instruction by arborist Guy Sternberg of Starhill Forest Arboretum, which is just a few miles north of the village of Salisbury, near where many of the trees have been marked. A burr oak which dates to the 1800s, along the west side of Highway 97, is in good health, according to Sternberg.

A plaque located off of Route 29 north of Springfield states “One of the first comprehensive highway tree planting projects in Illinois is along this route which leads to the New Salem State Park. The planting, which was completed in 1934, was sponsored by the Women’s Horner Clubs of Sangamon County.”

A 1933 article in the Illinois State Journal states the Horner clubs of Sangamon County, which consisted of about 17 clubs, had plans to help with the planting of 6,000 trees on the highway between Springfield and New Salem State Park. The clubs, named after then-governor Henry Horner and consisting of Sangamon County Democratic women, often gathered at the St. Nicholas Hotel to hear various public officials speak. In 1933 they held a card party, where women got together to play cards, to raise money for the project.

Sternberg agrees that some of the trees need to go. Some trees have had half of their limbs cut off to accommodate power lines, which in turn have caused the trees to deteriorate, and poor lawn mowing has damaged others. None of those marked around the Pleasant Plains area seem to have marks of damage from being hit by vehicles.

“These roads are traveled by many tourists as well as those of us who live nearby and appreciate what was done in the 1930s to make the highway corridor a pleasant experience instead of a barren travel way,” Sternberg said.

Paris Ervin, a spokesperson with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), did not respond to questions on the reason why the trees were marked, but only released a statement that “IDOT has no plans for tree removal at this time.”

IDOT could have marked the trees for consideration of removal in order to adhere to the state’s “clear zone” policy, which means the state can consider removing objects within a 30-foot range of certain roadsides to prevent vehicle collisions.

Although IDOT has stated there are no plans to proceed with tree removal, the Springfield Civic Garden Club submitted a petition containing 154 signatures to IDOT in April. It requested IDOT cancel any plans to remove trees along the highways in IDOT District 6, which covers 15 area counties. However, Springfield Garden Club President Ann Hamilton said she is concerned because she noticed on the drive to Springfield from Clinton that trees along that highway have been cut, although she doesn’t know by whom.

“It makes me wonder: what about all of these other highways in Illinois?” she said.

Contact Lauren P. Duncan at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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