Effort is on to save historic tree in Culver park

Jeff Kenney
Citizen editor

While an assortment of "hot topics" may have made the round in recent weeks nationwide, one of the points of debate and passion in Culver recently has centered on a fairly small, unassuming-looking tree.

If that sounds strange, it gets less so when residents -- and former residents with fond memories -- note the tree in question: a 100-plus-year-old mulberry located in the western portion of Culver's town park. When The Culver Citizen published an article to social media on June 15 reporting the park board's decision that the tree needed to come down for safety reasons, 75 comments (and 11 "Shares"), many of them heated, followed. The vast majority made pleas that the old tree, which can be seen in 1890s photographs of the original train depot adjacent to the park, be given a "stay of execution."

That, in fact, is exactly what's happened, though it's currently a temporary stay.

At a special park board meeting July 6, Ruth Tamminga, a former plant nursery owner and Master Gardener who has been volunteering in the area of plant care at the park, asked the board to consider a reprieve for the tree.

She was given a tentative thumbs-up, which has led to a special "Save the Tree" meeting, under Tamminga's leadership, this Thursday, July 9 at 9 a.m. at the park's beach lodge.

"I personally think the tree shouldn't come down," Tamminga told the Citizen. "It's not in as bad a shape as was painted by the arborist. It's got all its leaves, it's green and healthy -- it's just old! But it's still very strong."
Tamminga hopes to raise funds, as part of a community effort, to erect a fence around the tree, something the park board told her it's open to. She was instructed by the board to come up with a plan in time for the next park board meeting, slated for Monday, July 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the beach lodge, and then present it to the board.

Once approved by the board, Tamminga says donations may be made towards the cost of the fence to the park's gift fund, though they must be earmarked, "Save the Tree." Those gifts can be made via the Culver town hall.

The path to the tree's potential destruction began a few years ago when an arborist hired by Culver's tree commission took an inventory of the trees in the town park and listed the old mulberry as one which should be removed as potentially hazardous.

In the months that followed, several pleas came to the tree commission to keep the old tree standing, perhaps most notably from town council member Ed Pinder (leading to its being informally dubbed, in a few council meeting, "Ed's tree").

That changed last month when park board and tree commission member Tom Kearns told the council he had safety concerns since he'd noticed children playing in the tree more than once, with one child starting to fall when a branch broke under him while Kearns was discussing the matter with the child's father. The park board voted, in response, to remove the tree.

Park attorney Rachel Arndt had expressed concern that, since the issue of safety regarding the tree was raised in a public manner, the park's liability, should something happen in conjunction with the tree, has increased.

"We've become such a litigious society," says Tamminga regarding the lawsuit concerns. "It's a shame."

She says she considers the tree a Heritage Tree, which the website americanforests.org describes as encompassing "an array of unique values that are based on specimen, age, size, aesthetic, historical or horticultural value."

"I'm saying let's make it a heritage tree and protect it and leave it alone," adds Tamminga, suggesting a "tasteful fence around it so it's still very visible but kids can't climb on it.

"If people don't step up," she adds, "the tree will come down."