Tornado Damages Historic Theo Wirth Oak, Future Uncertain
Among the trees damaged from Sunday’s tornado is one of the Twin Cities most historical specimens, the 314-year-old Rockwood Oak.
It stands between Theodore Wirth Parkway and Wirth Lake, many of its impressive and curvy limbs now on the ground. At more than 300 years old, the tree is older than nearly every manmade item in our Minnesota museums. And if concerned residents have their way, parts of the tree may soon end up there.
Sunday's tornado blew through Theodore Wirth Park, uprooting and damaging dozens, if not hundreds, of trees - including the Rockwood Oak.
The tree is named for C.J. Rockwood who helped to enlarge and enhance Theodore Wirth Park in the early 1900’s. Park history calls the tree a “monarch of the region,” and tree experts with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) put the age of the Oak at 314 years old.
"We've walked past the tree a hundred times or more and have taken tons of pictures of it," Katie McGregor says. She and her husband, Jeff, live in Uptown, but often ride their bikes to Theo Wirth and go walking around Wirth Lake. "It's one of the reasons we come here so often. I know it's not a person or anything, but I'm going to miss it a lot. "
Sunday's twister ripped off 40 percent of the oak’s bold and distinctive branches which make up its canopy. This has made the tree unstable, according to the MPRB.
Crews have not begun to deal with damaged trees in the park system because of the enormous amount of work needed to clear thousands of boulevard trees and others from homes in North Minneapolis. But the MPRB has placed warning signs around the tree in an attempt to head off forestry if they should begin work in the area.
The MPRB Forestry Department hopes to decide soon if the burr oak can be saved, but tree experts say it doesn't look good. If it has to be removed, Damon Struyk would like to see a slice of the massive trunk preserved.
“I don't want to minimize people's much more pressing needs and concerns, but at the same time I don't want to lose forever something of historically significant value, says Struyk, who is Golden Valley’s representative on the Citizen’s Advisory Committee for the MPRB.
Life-long resident of Golden Valley, Clarence Johnson, remembers hearing stories about how folks used to ride horses around Wirth Lake in the early 1900’s. The bridal path was next to the big oak, in a similar location to the current walking path.
“I call it the witch tree because of all the growth on it," says Johnson who lives in a nearby neighborhood. “It has a spooky thing about it.”
Struyk isn’t committed to only the idea of a tree ring. He says anything done to remember this long standing symbol of time would be valuable to future generations.
“It is sad about this tree,” remarked MPRB spokesperson, Dawn Sommers. “If we need to, maybe we can even incorporate something of the tree in the nearby butterfly garden.”
Wirth Park falls under the Minneapolis Park Board's juristiction, but Mayor Loomis has offered the services of the Golden Valley's tree experts, who have contacted Struyk to see how the tree can be saved, if only for future display.
"Although it's just a tree, it's one of the many reasons our community is so wonderful," McGregor says, choking up. "It hurts to see it go, but if we can at least save some of it for display, that would be a nice tribute."
Editor's Note: We welcome Damon Struyk to Golden Valley Patch. As Golden Valley's sole rep on the CAC with Theo Wirth, he'll be bringing us updates both on this tree and on other news and notes from the park in our Local Voices section. Good to have you with us, Damon.