City relocates 100-year-old tree, saving it from the chainsaw

Despite the important role they play in the health and well-being of our communities, old city trees are often the first to be sacrificed to the juggernaut of modern urban expansion. But when the unstoppable force of a new road project in Texas called for a massive oak tree to be cut down last summer, residents rallied to do something that might have seemed impossible -- they decided to move it instead.

For more than a century, longer than anyone in town could remember, the stately Ghirardi Compton Oak tree had grown in the fertile soil of League City, Texas, and likewise in the hearts and minds of the community. So it's no wonder then that when the county laid plans earlier this year for a road to pass over the spot where the tree stood, city leaders voted to spare no expensive in order to relocate it away from the path of destruction.

But at 56 feet tall, 135 inches around, and a weight of more than 518,000 pounds, moving the tree to its new home 1,500 feet away proved a monumental task -- but well worth the effort.

First, contractors from a local landscape construction company tested the soil composition near the tree to ensure it matched that of its replanting area. Then they dug a trench around the base of the old tree, wide enough to encapsulate its root system, all the while ensuring the tree remained properly hydrated.

Next, they constructed a wooden box to stabilize the tree's roots during transport.

Workers ready the box for the big move.

Once all bottom sections were installed, 4 steel beams were placed under the bottom of the tree box and lifted by 2 cranes. The cranes placed the tree on a steel plate that was drug down a grass corridor to the new location.

Two bulldozers and two excavators pulled the skid and one bulldozer controlled the back end. Once the tree arrived in its new location, the process was reversed.

Residents gather for the successful planting of their beloved, century-old oak tree.

Once the engineering feat was finished this summer, the community could only wait to see if the tree would take root in its new locale. Since such moves can be traumatic for plants, the landscape construction company was assigned to monitor the tree's health on a regular basis -- but more than four months later, the tree still shows no real signs of distress.

In fact, just days ago, city arborists reported the transplanted tree as being "healthy and green with many acorns."

With any luck, League City's rescued old oak tree will continue to thrive in its newly planted home, serving as a testament to the power of human ingenuity to conserve, and not merely overrun, the bit of nature we have come to love in our zones of urban expansion.

After all, old trees like this one are important for far more than just offering cool shade on a hot day -- they serve to keep a purer measure of time amidst all of our fickle modernity, and their silent witness to history will no doubt speak more fondly to our future than any crowded street they might be felled for.

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