Colorado Springs, which takes pride in its designation as a Tree City USA municipality, recently cut down and hauled away 34 trees as part of a joint city/Business Improvement District plan to fix up downtown.
Removal of those trees has rankled sisters Christine and Stephanie Dowdell.
The Dowdells own La Creperie restaurant on the 200 block of North Tejon, across from Acacia Park. Founded 22 years ago by their grandmother, Mimi Pietri and their mother, Huguette Dowdell, the two women remember opening day 22 years ago, when their father planted a honey locust tree in front of the restaurant. The tree is now 20 feet tall.
"That tree means a lot to my sister and me," said Stephanie. "We've watched that tree grow over the years. It's the most beautiful tree on the block. My sister and I feed birds in it, just like Mother did. We park our bikes under that tree."
Several weeks ago, Christine arrived for work at 6:30 a.m. to find city workmen preparing to cut their tree down.
"That's when they're cutting the trees down, early in the morning -- before anyone is around," she said. "I told them there's no way they're cutting down my tree. I sat down on the front step, and they stared at me, and I stared at them. It was a faceoff. They didn't cut it down, though."
Destroying the roots
Dowdell began telephoning various city departments to save her tree and managed to talk the city into letting it stay.
A week later, however, she came to work at her usual pre-7 a.m. time to find workmen cutting the tree's roots off with a circular saw.
"Stephanie and I both garden," said Christine. "We know that you can't cut roots like that without damaging the tree. The workmen said they were doing it to make the tree fit into the square they were building around it.
"For crying out loud," she exclaimed. "Why on earth are they chopping away roots to make the tree conform to the square? Why can't they conform the square to the tree?"
Chagrined, the sisters called in the Forest Service for advice about how to save the tree, and they brought a garden hose to work so they could water and nurture it daily. "The Forest Service gave it a 50/50 chance to survive," said Stephanie.
The sisters are also upset that several other mature trees have been removed up and down Tejon.
"The corner of Kiowa and Tejon has been stripped," said Christine. "I came to work one morning to find the trees there already cut down and stacked. It's very disheartening. They cut down another 20-footer in front of the [jewelry store] next door in order to put in a kiosk. In my opinion, that kiosk would have looked very nice under a 20-foot tree."
Plans not secret
The trees are being removed in conjunction with Phase 2 of a joint city/Business Improvement District project to improve downtown by widening sidewalks, reconfiguring parking, and putting in new curbs, gutters and streetlights to beautify the area.
Project manager Audrey Jaramillo-Miller insists that the project plans were distributed to every business in the project area, and that tree removal was done under the supervision of project landscape architects and city foresters.
"When the problem with the tree in front of La Creperie was brought to my attention," she said, "I agreed that it was a beautiful tree, and we redesigned the whole bump-out and moved the streetlight, inlet and kiosk to keep it. We did, though, have to cut some roots to install the tree well, and that upset the sisters."
Jaramillo-Miller is quick to add, however, that the project may call for removal of 34 of the existing 80 trees, but the city has planted 79 new trees for a net gain of 45 saplings.
City forester Becky Wagner says that "all 80 of the trees in the project area were examined to determine their health and salvageability, and which could tolerate construction. Then the landscape architect decided how the trees fit in with construction needs, and all those considerations combined to decide which trees to keep."
Wagner estimates that approximately 10 of the 34 trees cut down had "bark boles" or other such health problems, and that the majority cut down were ash.
Beth Spokas, executive director of the Downtown Improvement District, says that the other trees were removed due to "underground" issues. "There are major storm drainage design problems at stake," she said. "You can't re-design a whole storm drainage system around a single tree.
"I'm a tree-hugger myself," she continued. "I don't like to see any tree removed. I'd like to point out, though, that there are more trees now than before, and on some blocks there are now trees where there weren't any."
The city's project manager, Jim Rees, tabbed lighting layout as another issue in tree removal.
"We spaced the streetlights every 50 feet to get good coverage of the sidewalk and street," he said. "Sometimes a tree would conflict with that, so we'd have to remove it."
The Dowdells emphasize that they are fans of many of the improvements downtown. "They're doing wonderful things, and we applaud all the new trees they've planted," said Stephanie Dowdell. "But why take down perfectly good standing trees? A 20-year old, 20-foot high tree is much more beautiful than a twiggy sapling. It'll take 20 years for them to look like the old ones. They'll be beautiful 20 years from now, maybe, but they aren't beautiful now."
"I spent much of my life in Europe," added Christine. "There, they try to preserve the old. Here, they rip out the old to put in new. That apparently goes for trees, too."