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April 14, 2014

Birmingham bids farewell to the ‘climbing tree’

By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer

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Birmingham bids farewell to the ‘climbing tree’
The climbing tree, which stood in the middle of the playground at Shain Park, was estimated to be about 65 years old.

BIRMINGHAM — April 9 was a warm, sunny day in Birmingham. As kids ran around the playground at Shain Park, happy to get some long-awaited time outdoors, their parents murmured curiously to each other: Where did the tree go?

Earlier that day, the beloved white pine known as the “climbing tree” had been cut down, along with a Norway maple about 20 feet east of the playground. The Birmingham City Commission voted unanimously April 3, at the recommendation of the city’s forestry expert, to cut down the trees that had stood  at the park for more than 65 years.

“These trees have been on the radar since we’ve renovated Shain Park. I’ve struggled all along as to why we were adapting the site plan to accommodate these trees,” said Judd Hart, owner of J.H. Hart Urban Forestry. He explained that both trees were declining in health, and the climbing tree specifically had canker disease, which he likened to cancer for trees.

“It’s getting to the point now where it’s becoming unsightly, and I’m getting really concerned about kids climbing a tree that’s failing,” he warned the commission.

The commission briefly discussed alternatives to taking the trees out, including underground aeration of the trees’ roots, with Hart and Birmingham Director of Public Services Lauren Wood. It was determined that any efforts would be temporary, and for safety purposes, the trees should come down.

“I think the writing is on the wall, and I don’t see any reason to try and save a dying tree,” said Commissioner Tom McDaniel during the meeting. “It’s time to say goodbye, sadly.”

After the April 3 meeting, Wood said that J.H. Hart was waiting until the weather cleared enough to allow the work. On Wednesday, Mother Nature provided such a day, and both trees were gone and the area cleaned up by 11:30 a.m. The project cost the city $600.

“It probably took under three hours,” said Wood. “The good news is that, now, there’s more room for potential additional play equipment. With sad news sometimes comes good news.”

The commission also discussed the potential to put a commemorative plaque where the climbing tree — used for years as the city’s Christmas tree — once stood.

Birmingham resident Shirin Ulrich took her kids to Shain Park that afternoon for the first time since before the winter set in. She said it was her 9-year-old twins, Aydin and Sophia, who first noticed the missing playground staple.

“I didn’t even realize it. Then my kids ran up to me and said, ‘Where’s the tree?’” said Ulrich.

She said that her kids played on the tree often, after the family walked from Baldwin Public Library over to the park to play.

“It was a good climbing tree,” she said.

Do you have a favorite memory with the climbing tree in Shain Park? Tell us about it on our wall at Facebook.com/BirminghamBloomfieldEagle.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at tesshaki@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1095.