Even in a Tree City
by By CHRISTY ARMSTRONG Banner Staff Writer
Aug 21, 2013 | 2312 views | 0 0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Safety concerns force Oakmont to take down a historic old oak
DR. WALTER PETERSON, left, and his son, Dr. Blake Peterson, stand by the dying oak tree outside their optometry practice to illustrate just how large its trunk has become. The tree, estimated to be at least 100 years old, is set to be cut down Friday amid concerns about the safety of the people and property around it.  Banner photo, CHRISTY ARMSTRONG
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Cleveland may be a “Tree City USA” according to the Arbor Day Foundation, but there still comes a time when big, historic trees might need to be cut down.

On Friday, a northern red oak that has already crushed two cars in a nearby parking lot with its falling branches will be felled.

Located outside Oakmont Eyecare at 2020 Keith St., the tree sits within view of both the Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway’s pedestrians and Keith Street’s drivers, and the tree has towered over its spot for as long as both Dr. Blake Peterson and his father, Dr. Walter Peterson, can remember.

“We named the building after this tree,” Blake said. “We hate to take it down.”

Blake said that the tree was last formally measured in 1991. Back then, the tree had a height of 97 feet and a circumference of 175 inches, or just over 14.5 feet around. He speculated that its towering height and the roots’ closeness to Mouse Creek meant that it had likely grown quite a bit since then.

Walter purchased the property back in the late 1960s before opening the optometry practice in 1988, he said. When he first bought the property, brush had to be cleared before it could be used. It was a time before the Greenway or even Keith Street existed. Before the tree provided shade for the office’s parking lot, it marked the entrance to a long stretch of woods.

“This was all grown up,” Walter said, gesturing around the property. “It was just a jungle.”

Though the age of the tree is unknown, Blake said a 90-year-old woman told them 20 years ago that she had lived nearby and played under the tree as a little girl, making it at least 100 years old, in their estimation.

The age of the tree is judged by the number of rings visible in its trunk, and that can be determined once the tree is cut down.

Cleveland Urban Forester Dan Hartman said it’s never ideal to cut down a large tree with history like that of the oak outside Oakmont.

“We try our utmost best to keep around every tree we can,” Hartman said.

But, at the same time, he said foresters have to pay close attention to the structural integrity of the tree. If the tree’s roots aren’t sturdy, it can fall, crushing anything in its path. If it rots and becomes hollow inside, it can become vulnerable to strong storms and other factors that can weaken it further. If the tree’s limbs begin to fall, it can pose dangers to both people and property.

Blake said the office had done what it could to save the tree as branches fell and hollow, rotted spots became visible on its large trunk. At one point, the office had a network of metal cables installed in the branches to make them sturdier.

But that did not keep a tree branch “as big around as a whole tree itself” from falling and crushing an employee’s car on a recent sunny day with very little wind, he said. It was the second time a vehicle had been destroyed by one of the tree’s branches. Only one of the cables remains.

Both the city and the office’s insurance company said the tree needed to be cut down since a large, heavy branch could fall again, Blake said.

“We can’t do much to know it’s going to be safe,” Hartman said.

So down it goes.

On Friday, workers equipped with a crane will cut the tree down, piece by piece.

The Oakmont office plans to keep the stump and count the rings to determine the tree’s age, allowing part of the historic oak tree to remain on the property.

Both Petersons said they knew watching the tree fall could be a bittersweet sight for some Clevelanders.

“It’s a Tree City,” Blake said. “And we want people to know we’ve done what we can do.”