Barking up the wrong tree

Sisters Regina McCurdy (right) and Phyllis Tietjen stand near to an old oak tree on land that has been in their family for almost 150 years. The tree and several others were recently threatened by an upcoming TxDOT project to widen F..M 60, but thanks to an online petition that garnered almost 43,000 signatures from around the world, TxDOT announced plans to avoid cutting them down.

Centuries-old oak trees in Snook appear to have been saved from the chainsaw as Texas Department of Transportation officials have reworked their plans to expand F.M. 60.

Regina McCurdy, whose family has owned the land for almost 150 years, has fought for seven years to preserve four 200- to 400-year-old trees from getting destroyed to make way for a highway.

On Friday, TxDOT announced a redesign of the $10.5 million project to widen F.M. 60 from a two-lane highway to a divided four-lane highway between F.M. 2039 and Old River that would have meant cutting down four of the 10 live oak trees in a 6.5-acre patch of McCurdy's land.

Instead, engineers have decided to "move forward with an urban solution in a rural setting," TxDOT spokesman Bob Colwell said in a statement.

Crews will construct a narrower, paved median near the older trees instead of building the highway with a wide, grassy median, Colwell said, noting that the new design "will not compromise safety, cost more, or delay the project."

While happy to hear of TxDOT's plans to save the trees that are believed to have been around since before Texas became Texas, McCurdy remains cautious.

"We're not saying the battle is over with," McCurdy said. "We'll follow through our meetings as scheduled and keep everyone up to date ... and continue on until construction is finished, so they will be accountable for their offer."

The battle to protect the "living artifacts" eventually led to the creation of a Facebook page, an online petition that had acquired more than 51,000 signatures as of late Friday and media attention from around the state -- all of which played a part in TxDOT's change of heart, McCurdy said.

She and her siblings spent plenty of time on the land passed down from her German grandfather, climbing the trees and playing hide-and-seek with friends.

"One has a huge hollow, so that was where we played and hid from our parents at some point," she said with a laugh.

Now raising cattle on the land, McCurdy hopes the trees will make memories for others.

"Something of that size and age, you can't replace that," McCurdy said. "What we're trying to do is preserve them for future generations to be able to appreciate."

No date has been set for construction on the roadway, but the project is expected to take a year-and-a-half to complete, according to TxDOT.

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(2) comments

Dino69

I don't undertand how they can say the roadway is safer with a narrow urban median as compared to a wider grass median in a rural setting

I understand the families attachment to the history of the trees and sentimental value.

The question to ask is, "Is it worth the lives of motorists with a less safe highway?" This question will be asked and ultimately have to been answered if a wreck happens on the narrow urban section in a rural setting.

ftw

I wonder how close to the trees they will build the road? If they build too close, the tree will die anyway. And, if making a few engineering changes that "will not compromise safety, cost more, or delay the project.", why isn't standard practice in all areas to save the natural landscape?

"Crews will construct a narrower, paved median near the older trees instead of building the highway with a wide, grassy median, Colwell said, noting that the new design "will not compromise safety, cost more, or delay the project.""

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