"Look how deep that crack is," marveled Jeff Reim, concerning damage 35 to 40 feet up a nearly 100-year-old shingle oak in the 1400 block of Wiggins Avenue.
"This whole side's going to go," Reim, the arborist for the city of Springfield, further cautioned. "Luckily, we haven't gotten any bad winds or straight winds. The crack is at least 10 feet long. Obviously, it's still intact but, it's getting worse."
The massive split in the tree, caused by a derecho and high winds that pulverized the city on June 29, allowed an observer to see straight through it.
Reim moves around to the sidewalk to point out another problem.
"When we put in this sidewalk, the roots were cut on this side of the tree," he said, "so that makes it even more dangerous. Basically, there's no root system on this side."
Shingle oaks are dependable for their shade. They were so-called because prairie settlers found the trees split easily and could be used for shingles or shakes.
Reim had been to the Wiggins site a number of times already to observe the repercussions and was armed with a diagnosis.
The crack, he assessed, would just keep getting worse and go down the center of the tree until it could't hold itself anymore and would eventually split apart. The crack visibly worsened, Reim noted, even in a span of a couple of days.
"It's in need of an emergency removal," he said. "It can't stay. It's a sad case, with this tree being 80 to 100 years old and the amount of shade it gives off for people."
Reim, who has been with the city of Springfield for eight years and oversees the forestry division, said 300 or more trees on city property alone were damaged by the storm. In terms of tree damage alone, Reim believed last month's storms were worse than 2006, when a pair of tornadoes ripped through the capital city.
"It was devastating to see," Reim said.
The city is still calculating amount of damage in dollars caused to the trees.
Reim, who is part of the forestry division under the Office of Public Works, evaluates the condition and overall health of a tree and makes the decision whether a tree needs to be removed or can be saved and trimmed.
A number of factors are involved, including safety to the public, meaning branches or limbs hanging over streets or sidewalks or interfering with power lines, he added.
The division will try to bring the city's canopy back, but that's difficult, Reim said, when you lose trees like the stature of the shingle oak on Wiggins.
"Obviously, you're trying to put in the biggest tree you can, but you're not going to be able to put in a tree 100 feet tall and something this mature and this valuable," Reim said. "It's a big loss all around."
Forty feet up in a boom
Forty feet up in a boom, with a whirring of a chainsaw and sawdust flying around, Terry Barnard cuts branches of a damaged sweet gumball tree on Dunwich Drive.
The branches land with a thud on the closed-off street, and within minutes a large pile has formed that a grapple truck will haul away later.
Barnard, a Public Works foreman who has been on a cutting crew for the last dozen years, works with speed and precision. He uses a bucket saw to cut the smaller branches before opting for a bigger chainsaw to address the trunk.
"Most of the hanging limbs were gone," Barnard explained afterwards, "so it was a pretty easy cut. There wasn't too much danger of branches hitting me in the head or stuff like that, but every time you go up, there's a certain amount of danger when you're using the chainsaw from the bucket.
"It works out nice if you have a good ground guy and a good guy to guide you around as well," Barnard added, pointing to Darren Southard.
Public Works has been utilizing three cutting crews as well as some outside contractors to do the removals and clean-up.
Immediately after the storms, crews were working 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, Reim said. Workers started with limbs that were posing any danger, as well as removing branches from roadways and blocking sidewalks, driveways and alleys.
The last couple of weeks have been concentrated on removing trees he added.
'This isn't right'
Monique Borders was picking up a branch downed from a sycamore tree the Sunday after the storm when she noticed a split in a large sugar maple tree.
"I said, 'This isn't right.' I knew if we had another storm or wind, (a branch) was going to take out part of my deck, fence, garage and power lines," said Borders who lives above a salon she operates on West Edwards Street.
"I don't even want to touch it because that's how bad that it is," said Reim, who recommended removal of the tree.
The division tries to accommodate homeowners regarding replacement trees on boulevards, Reim said.
"They don't want the leaf drop. They don't want the problems that come in the future," he said of reasons homeowners might not want to replace trees. "They'll sometimes say, 'Well, this going to start destroying my sewer pipes.' If they don't want a tree, we try to accommodate them."
The city typically does spring and fall tree replacement for residents, Reim said. Homeowners can buy trees on their own, but the trees have to come from a certified tree nursery.
There is a set of approved trees from the arboricultural specifications manual, Reim said. He goes to residences to look at the location to make sure it matches the size of tree and type of tree that's going to be planted.
As long as everything is OK, Reim approves a permit. Homeowners are required to contact JULIE before trees are planted.
Reim maintains a tree inventory noting the specimen, the caliper and the condition of each.
Maples are the most prolific trees on city property, Reim said, followed by oaks and sweet gums. The city is trying, he said, to plant a variety of trees, moving away from maples, for instance.
That's music to Borders' ears, who is thinking of having a couple of red bud trees planted.
"The red bud isn't going to get very big, about 20 feet tall," Reim explained to Borders. "It's going to grow wide."
Less enthusiastic about a replacement tree is Tom Suter, who lives in the 1500 block of Carolina Avenue. He said the tree's roots caused damage to his basement and to his sewer.
Other the other hand, Suter said, he is getting plenty of sunlight in his front room.
A 35-foot part of a silver maple came crashing down on Keys Avenue, exposing about half the trunk of the 70-year-old tree. Suter believed the damage could have come from a lightning strike.
Suter said he was thinking about measuring the diameter of the tree when he returned from a walk the morning of the storm.
"The next thing you know," Suter said, "it's over."
— Steven Spearie (@StevenSpearie) July 20, 2023
Contact Steven Spearie: 217-622-1788, email@example.com, twitter.com/@StevenSpearie.
This article originally appeared on State Journal-Register: Trees in Springfield were pummeled by the June 29 storms