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Frank Gray

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Frank Gray | The Journal Gazette
The emerald ash borer doomed Tacoma Avenue’s trees. Almost 25 percent of Fort Wayne trees are ash.

Tacoma trees just the tip of the ash heap

The people along a two-block stretch of Tacoma Avenue are up in arms since tree-trimming crews showed up this week with chain saws and started buzzing away at the trees.

By the time they are done, the trees, rooted in what is called the park strip and forming a shady canopy over the street, will be reduced to stumps.

It’s all part of a project to improve sidewalks after the neighborhood petitioned for the improvements. Over the years, some of the concrete squares have been pushed up 6 inches or more in places by the roots of the big, old ash trees that had lined the street, creating a sort of concrete obstacle course.

Some residents complained they had been hoodwinked. They knew the sidewalks were going to be replaced, but they didn’t know the trees were going to come down, too.

Just looking at the situation, though, it was clear that the huge roots of the old trees would have to be cut away to put in new sidewalks, and that would probably kill the trees.

But there was another factor at work here: the emerald ash borer.

City officials said 98 percent of the trees lining the street were ash trees, and many of them were showing signs of having been attacked by the bug – lots of suckers low on the trunk and dying branches high up in the tree. They’d been attacked by the bug that has wiped out entire forests in Michigan, and before long they’d die, too.

Within a couple of years, the trimming crews said, most of the trees would be dead anyway and become a safety hazard.

Not everyone bought into that. One woman responded by saying, in essence, “nonsense” when told about the ash borer problem. She just doesn’t believe it. Instead, she feels she was tricked.

“It’s sad to see the trees go,” said Pat Manore, who was eating lunch on her porch and watching the crews saw away at the big trunks and limbs of the trees. “That’s why we bought in this neighborhood,” because of the tree-lined street with esplanades in the middle.

“It’s a sad day for us,” said Elaine Maher, who also said the trees were why she moved there. Two big trees in front of her house had signs, “Please Don’t Cut Me Down” and “Leaf Me Alone.” She’d also used spray paint to blot out the X’s painted on her trees and painted an “OK” on both of them.

She knew she was fighting a losing battle. First, the sidewalk repairs necessitated removing the trees, and then came the ash borer issue. That was two strikes. She knew she couldn’t win.

There is no question: The personality of the neighborhood, or at least its appearance, will be drastically changed by the time the work is done, and that’s too bad.

City officials say they will plant a new tree for every one taken out, but it appears the trees won’t be in the park strip. It is too narrow, and if trees are planted there, their roots will just ruin the sidewalk again in a few years. Instead, trees will be planted in the esplanade.

The disappearance of the trees appears to have been inevitable, though. Almost all the trees that are coming down are ash trees, and they showed signs of being infected with ash borer. They really would have been dead before long.

It’s something that people all over Fort Wayne are going to have to get used to in the next few years.

Twenty-three percent of all city trees are ash, and they’re being ravaged by this bug that came from China.

The city is trying to save some of the ash trees. It treated about 1,200 trees this year and last, including ones of historic significance and ones that seemed healthy, city officials said.

But treating trees that show significant signs of damage might prove to be a huge waste of money.

It appears the plague that was killing millions of trees in Michigan a few years ago is here, and it isn’t going away. Just the trees are.

Frank Gray has held positions as reporter and editor at The Journal Gazette since 1982 and has been writing a column on local topics since 1998. His column is published on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by e-mail at fgray@jg.net.

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