The Mayor and the Cottonwood Tree

Dear Mayor Coleman, a bevy of city workers met me at the cottonwood tree this afternoon – if bevy is quite the word to include a burly Public Works guy. There they all were, kind, and informative.

What seemed to doom the tree at this meeting was the traffic circle which is part of the bike way now slated to exist on Griggs.If the traffic circle is put where the corners are in the crossing, it will impair the tree. Yes, the traffic circle could be moved somewhat west in the intersection, thus making more room for a cottonwood tree boulevard, but neither the burly public works guy nor the slender forestry guy was particularly hep to this notion. Could it be possible to make such an adjustment to a plan that had been federally funded for months and needed to be implemented? They kept shaking their heads and talking about digging down and injuring the tree which would surely fall on something or someone.

For me, at this point, the root of the problem goes back to initial Lex-Ham discussions of the two choices for the bikeway through the neighborhood – should it be narrow Griggs with many older trees or should it be broader Dunlap with broader boulevards and almost all young trees?

The community had no “forestry input” at the point of deciding. No one came to tell the group that mature trees would be in danger of being removed if two traffic circles were put in.

Here’s my suggestion: that there be a plan put in place to do just that–to make sure that community members asked to help make a decision about city streets and traffic patterns be informed about just what would happen to current trees if certain solutions were put in place. I suspect knowing the cottonwood tree would be doomed with putting a traffic circle on Griggs and Portland might well have swayed the community against selecting Griggs and instead choosing Dunlap.

Meanwhile I keep hoping that a tree fairy will wave a magic wand and gently ease the traffic circle west, expanding the boulevard for the cottonwood. Just maybe the cottonwood could become the Poster Tree for St. Paul’s new bikeway system. After all, both trees and biking help lessen the CO2 that cars spew into our atmosphere. Both trees and bikes are part of a global solution.

This is the perspective of a poet tree lover who’s written a poem about that very tree: It’s called


Something divine in the daily exercise
rafter of clouds,
the sun shafting its spear,
a wasteland colonized
with milkweed’s sails of white,

a grey squirrel suddenly white
in high-pitched shade

reminder of the day
when overnight a cottonwood let fall
its gold-white hearts, and
kissed the ground all over.

Thank you for all you’ve done. With best wishes.

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