Turning bark into a bench
Hours before a construction crew dislodged a towering Douglas fir in front of the U.S. Bank branch on Boones Ferry Road in Lake Oswego, Mike Buck found a note nestled under a yellow "caution" sign draped around the tree.
According to Buck, who is a Boones Ferry Road Project Advisory Committee member, the card read, "Please, please save the tree."
Buck empathized with the note, feeling conflicted about the tree removal himself. But he believes the tree will be put to good use.
Through a project to fashion a bench and gathering space using pieces of the 85-foot tree and place it on Chuck O'Leary's property on the west side of Boones Ferry Road near Bryant Road, Buck hopes to honor a tree that has supplied oxygen to Lake Oswego for many decades and add pizzazz to a project that will overhaul Boones Ferry Road as it passes through Lake Grove.
"In some ways, we can't save it. But we're saving it in another way," Buck said. "We appreciate it, we give tribute, we recognize what these trees do for us in so many ways."
In addition to widening sidewalks and adding bike lanes, the project will revamp Boones Ferry Road between Madrona Street and the Oakridge Road-Reese Road intersection, supplementing the existing four lanes with a central median and turning lanes, improved landscaping and drainage, and public plaza areas connected to the sidewalks.
It will also add three new signalized intersections and two pedestrian-only, mid-block crossings. The goal, according to the project website, is to "create a street that serves as the centerpiece of the Lake Grove area."
In an effort to make sure that public art is part of that centerpiece, the Lake Grove, Waluga and Lake Forest neighborhood associations received an $18,750 Neighborhood Enhancement Grant from the City of Lake Oswego, in part to pay for the installation of a natural wood bench made from the Douglas fir. Tree Care Unlimited removed the tree on Oct. 11, and Sea Reach Ltd. will put together the bench.
About 27 of the tree's 85 feet will be restored for the project, including nine feet for a barked trunk, nine feet for a bench and nine feet to be milled.
"When you see the log, you can't take it for granted. You'll see where it came from," Buck said. "People are lamenting that we lost a tree, but at least we salvaged a tree in an art form that says, 'Come sit beside me.'"
The bench will be placed within one of the many planned waysides — triangular paved spaces that will serve as public plazas along the road. Buck said each wayside will represent and include plantings of a specific type of tree, such as western red cedar and white oak.
However, he said the Douglas fir is the only existing tree that will be repurposed. The Douglas fir bench and gathering space won't be implemented until construction of the wayside is complete. Construction for the Boones Ferry Road Project is slated to begin sometime in 2019 and last about two years.
"The whole project is trying to humanize the street, make it personal, make it so people can relate, can live out their life story together with each other," Buck said.
Buck said other art pieces may include the implementation of "thought bubbles," with hanging quotes etched into Cor-ten steel and art medallions dedicated to Native American heritage, immigration and agriculture.
"While the Boones Ferry Road Project is primarily a road project, it is also going to create a pedestrian environment, and that's going to include gathering spaces or small waysides that are meant to create community spaces," project advisory committee member Carolyn Krebs said. "It's an important element to have art in those spaces to create a more aesthetic environment for pedestrians."
Buck said the bench was chosen for O'Leary's property, which is about a block away from the U.S. Bank site, because it had requisite open space and because the Douglas fir was big enough to be converted into a bench.
"It (the tree) fits the specifications for what we need, which is at least a 30-inch diameter to convert it into this progressive, evolving bench," Buck said.
The Boones Ferry Road project will include the removal of many trees along the street, but Buck said more trees will be planted than will be removed.
"We have a really wide diversity in our planting palette, both in native shrubs and trees coming back here, but also a diversity of trees that do well in a commercial corridor," Buck said.
Buck said the City of Lake Oswego considered the Douglas fir to be a "significant tree" and that its trunk rings indicate that it's about 90 years old. He noticed that the tree seemed to grow rapidly throughout the first half of its life before its growth slowed. He surmises that another Boones Ferry Road project disrupted its trajectory.
"It's (the tree removal) heartbreaking, because it's such a beautiful tree and it's right here for everybody to enjoy it," said Trudy Corrigan, another project advisory committee member. "It's gonna hurt everybody's feelings, including mine, but it's destined now for a really great future."