the fall of 1992 the state highway department started
cutting down all the old historic Sugar Maples along
Center road on the Old Mission Peninsula. The bureaucrats
at Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT)
apparently decided these trees were a hazard. Being old,
they could drop a limb in the way of an oncoming auto or
just simple topple onto one. And they were going to die
soon anyway so why not get rid of them all?
John Wunch, local musician and
environmental activist, didn't share that opinion with
MDOT. He got their attention with the help of lawyers and
other outraged citizens on the Old Mission Peninsula. A
compromise was reached between the tree savers and the
tree cutters. MDOT would allow John with other to assess
the trees that need to be either cut down or trimmed and
mark them. Only marked trees would be cut or trimmed by
The marking of the trees is done
every 2 years, and this is a marking year. So John called
up the folks who had helped him stop the trees' earlier
death in 1992, who have been on the tree marking team
ever since. Clarence Kroupa, Walter Johnson, John Wunch
and I meet for our biannual tree determination. Clarence
and Walter are the elders of the team, both grew up on
the Old Mission Peninsula. Walter still lives on the
peninsula and Clarence lives just west of Traverse City
It was a hot breezy day and we
could catch a whiff of tar as we walked the edge of the
road, stopping at various old giant Sugar Maple trees. We
would gather around the various old tree souls and talk
as if they couldn't really hear us.
"That one is pretty sparse all the
way to the top. . . "
". . . the trunks got a lot of rot
on this one
". . . this one needs to go, its
almost dead already. . . "
". . . sure is a big old tree,
sorry to see it go. . . "
"that ones got a dangerous limb
that could fall in the road, it better go"
". . . its been a very stressful
year. Lets leave it and see if it can recover if next
summer is better. . . "
John and I took turns spraying
orange dots on the trees that we all decided needed to be
cut down. We didn't spray a dot until we all agreed that
it should go. Sometimes it was pretty obvious, others we
discussed for a while --walking around the tree, looking
at it from different angles, picking at the bark on the
trunk, looking at the tree's nearest neighbor to see if
it might do better if it were cut down. Each time I
sprayed a dot I whispered to the tree, "I'm
There is a replanting program
underway to replace these old trees. Many were planted
this year, but with the mid-summer drought a fair number
didn't make it. More will be planted to replace the ones
we dotted for death this year. That was one of the
excuses we used to dot ones we were unsure of.
I wonder if some day the new trees
will be marked with dots around the year 2130? The ones
we are marking now were planted in late 1800's and have
lived a good long life. But the environment is not as
healthy for trees now. Pavement and salt create a harsh
environment which is further degraded by global warming.
Although from the late 1800s to the early 1900s the
Peninsula was even less tree friendly as most trees were
clear-cut, now we and the trees are both threatened by
the effects of human activity. It is unclear who will
still be around and healthy in 2130.