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The Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin)

An enormous oak that tumbled to the ground in Orton Park during last week's violent storms should be used for a natural play structure, some neighbors say.

The tree fell in the middle of the city's oldest park in the early hours of June 17, its leafy branches wedged in a nearby swing set and its trunk stretched across the main sidewalk through the park.

"As soon as I saw that tree laying there, I said, ?Oh, maybe this is our play structure,'" said T.R. Loon, who lives next to the park.

As it turns out, using a tree as a play structure is something neighbors have wanted to do for several years, according to Loon. Each year, the park loses one or two trees, and "that wood is almost always taken to the grinder and turned into wood chips." Last year, the city cut up one fallen tree into three logs, each about 5 feet long, that remain in the park and are used as benches "or little kids use them as a balance beam."

"They're just plain old logs," Loon said. "So now we want this little more elaborate one."

They already have a vision for the structure. The group wants to use a big piece of the trunk ? "about 5-8 feet, and another 8-10 feet of the branches," Loon said. "You'd end up with a big log with three forks on the end. Two forks would be on the ground and the third fork would sit about 2-3 feet off the ground in the air."

He said it would be up to the Parks Department on how it would be installed, whether on top of pea gravel or shredded rubber, the two surfaces that are currently used in Orton.

The Parks Department has yet to make a decision.

"Our priorities are storm clean-up, so that's what we're working on first," said Laura Whitmore, a spokeswoman for Madison Parks. She said the department will talk to the Orton Park neighbors after the city has cleaned up from the storms.

The Friends of Orton Park is willing to pay to make it happen ? "if the tree has to be peeled or treated with something," Loon said. One of the Friends of Orton Park is also an arborist and has a DitchWitch, which could move the massive log if the city agrees to it, according to Loon.

Last week, city crews cleared branches from the crown of the tree and the swings are now accessible.

But as the crew was getting ready to cut up the rest of the tree on Thursday afternoon, "One of my neighbors went and sat on the tree," Loon said, telling the crew "my grandchildren want to play on this."

After some "civil" back-andforth with the crews, Loon said, the Parks Department agreed to hold off on chopping up the tree.

Now the hunk of trunk remains, a swath of yellow police tape surrounding it. On Friday, Loon posted several laminated signs about the play structure idea, suggesting those who support it call the Parks Department. The sign reads: "Many Orton Park users are asking the Parks Department to leave a part of it as a natural play structure. The Parks Department has agreed to leave it for now so the community can decide if this is a good idea.

"The Parks Department will meet with community members before June 27 to make this decision."

The Orton Park Natural Play Structure Facebook page has already generated more than 200 likes.

"Children have many questions about the storm and its after effects. It has been sad for many of us to lose so many of these beautiful trees," reads a post on the group's Facebook page.

"Keeping part of this tree in the park makes sense for many reasons: it tells a story about the park and the storm; teaches children about reclaiming and reusing precious resources; provides an unstructured space for children to express their creativity and explore."

Orton Park already features a playground with several slides and swing sets, plus a gazebo with tables for picnics. The park hosts the annual Orton Park Festival each August, where members of the Cycropia Aerial Dance Troupe perform feats while swinging from the oak trees, long the signature feature of the park.


KATIE DEAN/THE CAPITAL TIMES Some neighbors of Orton Park want a portion of this oak tree that tumbled to the ground during last week's storms to be used as a natural play structure.


June 26, 2014




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