Early Thursday morning, Kim Badgett walked from her home near Fifth and Pearl streets to spend one final sunrise under the historic cottonwood a few blocks east.
Hours later, Boulder crews began to cut it down.
“I’ve been crying salty tears,” Badgett said.
Protestors initially chained themselves to the tree, in opposition of the city’s decision to fell the ailing cottonwood tree on Pearl Street between Sixth and Seventh streets. The tree dates back to approximately 1880, according to a city news release.
But for Boulder’s Parks and Recreation Department, it comes down to what’s safest.
Boulder has pruned the cottonwood tree twice to prolong its life, but officials said the tree’s health continues to decline and that there are pockets of decay throughout.
Additionally, its location in a highly trafficked pedestrian area near downtown poses a safety risk, according to forester Ken Fisher, who’s worked for the city for nearly three decades.
“Safety is our first priority,” he said, later adding, “We don’t get pleasure out of removing trees, especially large, historic ones.”
According to a news release, the city’s Urban Forestry team manages approximately 51,000 public trees in city parks and public street rights-of-way across Boulder. These trees are inspected for health, structural integrity and safety using industry-set standards and techniques to facilitate the maintenance of a healthy and diverse urban canopy, the city stated.
In an effort to compromise, Fisher and his team decided on scene to leave a 30-foot stump instead of cutting the whole tree down.
Police were called to the scene early Thursday morning after some residents chained themselves to the tree in protest, but by 9:30 a.m. they were unchained from the tree and work had proceeded.
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Some upset residents said they don’t think the tree is unhealthy, while others questioned why it wasn’t removed in the winter when it wasn’t in bloom.
But from Fisher’s view, “there’s no good day to remove a tree.” There would still be animals using the tree for food and shelter during the winter, he noted.
One resident Mitra, who did not share her last name, said she’s been visiting the tree for 40 years. She’s one of the people who originally chained herself to the tree in protest. The tree is home to a hawk as well as bees, squirrels, hummingbirds and more. Mitra and others worried how the wildlife might be affected.
“It means a lot to me,” she said. “It’s Boulder history, and it’s the last big tree on Pearl Street.”
However, other people who gathered near the work zone shared a different perspective.
Erin Stokes lives in the area and has been visiting the tree for 20 years.
“It’s emotional to see it coming down, but I also acknowledge it needs to happen,” she said.
Resident Gena Simpson-Li agreed. She said she was sad to lose to the tree, but she understood the necessity of it.
“It’s sad to lose things we love, but this is the earth,” she said. “Nothing’s permanent here.”
Pearl Street was closed to east and westbound traffic in the area during the work. Local traffic had to detour around the work zone.