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Local Matters: Timber Trails Tree Tragedy

The destruction of 100+ year-old-trees continues at Timber Trails. Is there any hope to save the last stands from the devastation?

On October 9 of last year, another 29 ancient trees were destroyed at Timber Trails.  How ancient?  The youngest of the trees was at least 80 years old, and at least a few were twice that old, probably older.  I’ve included a photo I took of the trunks being shipped out and you can see how large – how ancient – these trees were.

So what occasioned the destruction of another 29 trees?  I’m told that the site owners need to run drainage pipe to the eventual retention pond down near Plainfield and the Toll Road. 

It was a painful thing to watch.

An official tree survey in December 2004 found that there were 1157 trees onsite with a diameter of 12" or more (measured 4' above the ground).   Of those trees, 710 were oaks (including 463 burr oaks) and 36 were shagbark hickories.  The various oaks and shagbark hickories represented two-thirds of the large trees on site.

Using the Morton Arboretum’s handy table, we can estimate the age of the smallest (i.e. 1 ft in diameter) burr oaks as 79 years old and the shagbark hickories as 116, while red and white oaks fall between these two in age.  That is, in 2004 Timber Trails had over 1100 trees that were 80 years of age or older. 

Returning to the most recent carnage, I’ve guesstimated the diameter of the trunks in my photo as a few inches over 2 feet, which the Arboretum ballparks as 167 years old.  If so, those trees grew up in the pre-Civil War period, and yet they have been destroyed as if they were mere trifles, simple roadblocks to be demolished.

It has so far proved impossible for me to discover how many of the original 1157 trees have been destroyed.  And how many is too many?  Is it okay if “just” 300 of these old trees are destroyed?  Or perhaps destroying 500 of the at-least-80-year-old trees is fine and dandy.  Do I hear 600? 

In November 2011, Openlands, the Chicago-area conservation group, made an offer to purchase the tree-lined swath of Phase II, the western half of the property, for $10 million, with the idea of eventually deeding the property over to the Cook County Forest Preserve or a similar caretaker.  There were several hearings on this proposal with the Western Springs Trustees this past spring which the Patch covered.  It seems that the Board of Trustees has been non-committal and unsympathetic to the sale because of the potential drop in revenue.  After all, you can’t tax forest preserve land.  Cut down the trees!  Bring on the houses! 

The Trustees however blamed Openlands, stating that Openlands had not properly submitted the paperwork.  Others, including Save the Timber’s Ellen Raymond and former Indian Head Park Trustee Don Hoak, have scoffed at this explanation.

Last June, Openlands terminated their contract on the land.  At the time, their spokesperson, Emy Brawley, said: “We’re not going anywhere and our commitment to preserve the property hasn’t wavered at all.”  So, there’s still hope, but a distinct lack of progress.  And the trees still fall. 

This week, in my research for this column, I spoke with Emy about Openlands’ continued involvement, and whether matters had changed since last June.  She told me simply: “Openlands remains a willing buyer and has made inquires to determine if there's a willing seller”.  Bless you, Openlands.

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Toni Parker February 05, 2013 at 01:26 AM
How much of the site is currently designated as having attained NFR status from IEPA?
Mouse February 05, 2013 at 02:14 AM
Craig, you're a little late on the water plant (but maybe not, they're three months behind schedule and still are too afraid of the dark to run it 24 hours a day). I wish I would have saved some of the "fluff" which settles into the bottom of water glasses due to the 800+ hardness. Patch was too afraid of being kicked out of the little Trustees club to do any meaningful reporting on it, so a water system with 4000 customers sits with barely usable water and waits for the next failure.
Mouse February 05, 2013 at 02:18 AM
More to the point here, many more trees were cleared to create the golf course decades ago so focusing on the trees is not where you want to at. What you want to look into is the backroom deal someone is cooking up to reactivate Phase II instead of turning it into a very badly needed bit of official open space. Western Springs was busily selling off every square foot of "surplus property" in the 1990's, mostly to developer buddies of the Village Manager, and it would not surprise me if someone hasn't planted a bug in someone's ear about acquiring the remaining Timber Trails property for pennies on the dollar to cram in more townhouses.
madman2001 February 05, 2013 at 02:42 PM
Toni, when I was researching this article, I found on the Save the Timber website (http://www.savethetimber.org/arsenic--lead-findings.html) a letter from the Western Springs village attorney which says in part: "The Village acknowledges that the Owners of Timber Trails . . . have obtained NFR [No Further Remediation] letters for portions of Unit 1." It seems that Unit 1 is another term for Phase 1 (the eastern half), but I'm not sure. There's much more in the letter, which I found rather dense and occasionally bewildering, but then again it was written by a lawyer. : ) So it seems to me that No Further Remediation letters were received for all or some of Phase I, but not Phase II. I'd be interested in your or others' opinions.
madman2001 February 05, 2013 at 03:45 PM
I do know that Medley Capital recently purchased all of Timber Trails from the foreclosure owner and has now hired Dartmoor Homes to build out houses and townhomes. I have not heard anything about "cramming in more townhouses", but it wouldn't surprise me.

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