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Coeur d’Alene seeks ideas for Freedom Tree wood

A Norway spruce known as the Freedom Tree will be cut down to make way for a parking structure in McEuen Park in downtown Coeur d’Alene.

The city says it will salvage about 30 feet of the tree’s base in an effort to preserve the history of the tree, which was planted in the 1960s and designated in 1972 to honor Vietnam War service members taken prisoner or missing in action.

“The Freedom Tree represents a very special piece of our history, one that symbolizes the incredible bravery and courage of our veterans,” Coeur d’Alene Parks Director Doug Eastwood said in a news release. “We plan to do everything we can to ensure its legacy lives on for decades to come.”

The city is asking residents to suggest uses for the wood. Some ideas already floated include park benches, chainsaw artwork and keepsake blocks with an inscription of the planting date and species.

Another idea is to hold a ceremony prior to the removal as a way for people to gather and remember what the tree has stood for in the past 50 years, the city said.

The spruce is surrounded by asphalt in a large parking lot at the end of Fourth Street. A $20.2 million reconstruction of the park is about to begin, and the tree will be removed so a new parking structure and pedestrian access can be built this year.

The city will open construction bids on the park makeover Tuesday. Eighty percent of the project is being financed by urban renewal tax dollars. The city has said it hopes the new park will be finished next November, but that time line isn’t certain.

The Freedom Tree was planted in the early to mid-1960s, primarily as a way to prevent Fourth Street from extending south and encroaching onto Tubbs Hill, the city said.

During the Vietnam War, the tree became a symbol of freedom. A plaque was placed at its base to honor local U.S. Air Force Capt. Fred McMurray, who was shot down over Vietnam on Sept. 12, 1972, and spent 199 days in captivity. He was released on March 29, 1973, and returned home to Coeur d’Alene. McMurray retired from the Air Force as a lieutenant colonel in 1988.

The tree also pays tribute to service members missing in action during the war.

McMurray still lives in the area and understands why the tree needs to be removed, said his daughter, Lisa McLeod. The family has asked the city if they can have a piece of the tree after it’s taken down.

The plaque and a veterans memorial will be relocated in the park, and a new Norway spruce will be planted and named the Freedom Tree in an area just west of the new memorial, Eastwood said. It will include the American flag, the P.O.W. flag and flags from each branch of the military, plus medallions identifying the branches.

The city will take ideas on how to use the Freedom Tree wood on its Facebook page at CDAgov or by e-mail,