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Saving a living piece of history

George and Vellabe Creuziger and arborist Kevin Nolan hope the Foxconn development can spare the Creuzigers' tree.

MOUNT PLEASANT — When George and Vellabe Creuziger built their house 58 years ago, they built it so it would be bordered on three sides by oak trees.

Arborist Kevin Nolan said the more than 150-year-old trees east and west of the house at 12706 Braun Road were probably the progeny of the giant burr oak in their backyard. Nolan estimated it’s around 300 years old; George is convinced it’s closer to 400. Either way, it’s probably as old, or older, than the United States.

Before building the house, George had farmed the fields now bordering his backyard, just like his father had before him. The fields are also sprinkled with old oaks. It could have made farming easier if they had cut some of them down, but it wasn’t an option.

“My dad wouldn’t destroy an oak tree,” said George.

Now George, Vellabe, Nolan and the Hoy Audobon Society are working with the county to try to save the 300-year-old burr oak, which is sitting on land slated for the second phase of the Foxconn development.

Trees We Love

Sue Schuit, Hoy Audobon’s Conservation Chair, started the Trees We Love program through which people submit a tree that they want recognized.

“I’m a tree lover, always have been,” said Schuit. “They’re silent curators of history.”

Vellabe submitted their giant oak to the program because she was afraid of what would happen to it once they sold their house to the Village of Mount Pleasant.

“We were afraid it would be destroyed,” said Vellabe. “I’ve just enjoyed all the trees but with that big one, you can’t replace it.”

When Schuit called her to learn more about the tree, she learned that the Creuzigers’ house was part of the future site of the second phase of the Foxconn project.

“At that moment my heart sunk,” said Schuit. “I went, ‘We have to do what we can, because it’s an absolutely gorgeous tree.’ ”

Schuit sent Nolan, who volunteers as an arborist for Hoy Audobon, to evaluate the tree. Its trunk is about 60 inches in diameter, and it’s 70 feet tall. Nolan estimates that the tree’s spread, which measures its width from branch tip to opposite branch tip, is 85 feet.

“There are a lot of burr oak in this area,” said Nolan. “But not a lot that have maintained their quality and health.”

Cautiously optimistic

Schuit contacted county officials, who she said have been very responsive.

M.T. Boyle, Racine County chief of staff, has helped put Schuit in touch with the different parties planning the construction and utilities for the site.

“It’s easy to recognize the beauty and historic nature of this burr oak and the local project and construction teams share the desire to keep it,” said Boyle.

The Department of Transportation has confirmed the tree is out of the public right-of-way. But right now, the main focus is Phase 1 of the project, so the specifics for Phase 2 haven’t been laid out.

“While there is a goal to preserve the tree, some construction and utility work is still in planning stages, including work related to the parcel where the tree is located,” said Boyle. “We hope to know more in the coming weeks as these plans are finalized and moving forward.”

Still, the responsiveness by the involved parties has made Schuit “cautiously optimistic.”

“To get in touch with the Foxconn folks to help save one tree is something I think everyone would imagine is quite daunting,” said Schuit. “We’ve gotten greater progress than I ever would have imagined. There’s a long way to go yet.”

The Creuzigers assume they’ll have to sign away their property to the village in the next week or two. They said they’ll miss sitting on their back porch, looking at the tree where their kids used to play on a tire swing.

“I just enjoy looking at it,” said Vellabe.

Nolan tried to reassure them it should be fairly easy to build around the tree; it could be a nice green space on the Foxconn campus.

“I think Creuziger Park has a nice ring to it,” he said.

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Christina Lieffring covers the Burlington area and the Village of Caledonia. Before moving to Racine, she lived in Nebraska, Beijing, Chicago and grew up in Kansas City.

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