Summer storms destroy campus trees

Emily Dalnodar

With a chain saw clipped to his climbing belt, University gardener Joe McIntosh swings from limb to limb of damaged trees, cutting them down one branch at a time.
Early summer storms ravaged Twin Cities landscapes, pulling up 100-year old trees and downing power lines. The University was no exception: The most recent storm alone destroyed almost 40 trees.
In response, University facilities management officials recruited extra help from landscaping and grounds crews last week to clean up damage left in the wake of the storms.
“We pulled a lot of people who do other jobs,” said Jim Blake, facility support supervisor. “We shut down landscaping to help. We have to keep a few people working on other tasks. The damage is all over.”
Crews cleaned up most of the dangerous spots where fallen trees blocked roads and pathways. Other hot spots included trees with dangling limbs, ready to fall with the next gust of wind.
Each tree takes a two-person crew about two hours to dismantle, depending on its severity, size and location.
“For actual number of trees lost, it’s the worst I’ve ever seen,” McIntosh said before taking on an elm near Middlebrook Hall.
While McIntosh scales the trees, College of Liberal Arts sophomore Carey Biron drags fallen limbs out of the way. “I haven’t had to climb trees yet, but I think it would be damn fun,” Biron said. The two will continue their work well into next week.
Most destruction occurred on the St. Paul campus near Buford Circle — the area where in May, members of the Student Society of Arboriculture planted trees in honor of Arbor Month.
Though several large trees are down, storms spared the students’ freshly planted saplings that dot the area. Unlike older, solid trees, flexible saplings bend and sway with the wind.
In addition to wind, heavy rainfall generated uprooting. Substantial amounts of rain saturated the ground and weakened trees’ roots. The strong winds accompanying the storms just plucked the trees out of the ground, Blake said.
All the trees lost are recycled back into the University, McIntosh said. Trunks, limbs and branches are shredded into wood chips using a chipping machine.
Landscaping crews will use the wood chips to surround new saplings where old trees used to stand. The University’s tree nursery in St. Paul is donating most of the saplings. Facilities Management will purchase other trees from private nurseries.
Although saplings will beautify University grounds, nothing can replace the grand, old trees that used to occupy their space, Blake said.
“This is such a beautiful tree,” Blake said of a downed tree outside the VoTech building. “It’s such a shame.”