The lone pine tree stands sentinel over rolling farmland and drivers cruising along U.S. Highway 95 on their way to visit friends in Worley or gamble at the Coeur d’Alene Casino, just down the road.
“A few years back someone set fire to the tree,” said neighbor Domnick Curley. “The whole town of Worley was in an uproar.”
The tree survived that assault, but the pine’s luck may have finally run out.
The 70-plus-year-old specimen stands in the way of a planned project to improve the highway, and the Idaho Transportation Department intends to cut it down this spring because other alternatives have been ruled too expensive.
That doesn’t sit well with Curley, who remembers more than 65 years ago eating lunch with his parents under the branches of the “Grandfather tree” as the family took a break from working nearby fields.
“There are a lot of people in the community who don’t want it taken down,” said Curley, a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.
“It’s hard to put in words. It’s been there for years and years and years. It’s close to me in a spiritual way,” he said.
The Coeur d’Alenes haven’t given up on the tree, said attorney Eric Van Orton.
“At this point the tribe and Idaho Department of Transportation are exploring some options of what to do with the tree,” Van Orton said. “Unfortunately it’s sitting there right in the path of the road.”
The $39.7 million construction project is scheduled to restart in mid-April. That means the tree will likely be removed this spring.
The project will improve safety and build four lanes of roadway on about four miles of U.S. 95 from one mile outside Worley to one mile north of the highway’s junction with Idaho Highway 58.
The Transportation Department has considered several options to save the tree, including rerouting the highway around it or moving the pine. Both options cost too much, said Marvin Fenn, the department construction engineer.
Rerouting the highway would require buying additional right of way and additional engineering studies, Fenn said. “We didn’t really add it up, but we’re talking three-quarters of a million dollars plus,” he said.
Transplanting the tree would cost $300,000 to $500,000 because of its size, Fenn said.
Even with those issues, Fenn said the department hasn’t closed the door on discussions.
“We still want to work with the tribe to resolve the issues with the tree,” he said, adding that the department didn’t know the tree would be a problem until after design and engineering work was completed.
“That tree means different things to different people,” Van Orton said. “There are those who attached a lot of significance to that tree and would hate to see it cut down.”
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