Lovers of the iconic oak trees represented on League City’s official seal lost a battle Friday against the city’s ever-increasing growth.
That pending loss of a historically significant oak tree on a school campus has local advocates worried about the remaining canopy and talking about stepping up preservation efforts.
Efforts to save a historic oak tree at League City Elementary School fell short of raising enough money to move the tree from a construction zone, supporters said.
The Friends of “Mr. Elementree” by a Friday deadline had raised only $4,500 toward moving the 110-year-old oak tree from a site where Clear Creek Independent School District plans to put a parking lot to serve a rebuilt school. Moving and replanting the tree would have cost about $200,000, officials said.
Crews planned to cut down the tree March 1, but district officials agreed to wait 30 days before taking it down. The 30 days are up, and supporters are out of time.
The League City Historical Society, Patrons of the Park and the League City Garden Club worked together to raise money in the one month they had.
“It’s not nearly enough to move the tree,” city Councilman Greg Gripon said. “But we did raise awareness.”
The $4,500 will pay for fertilizing and pruning historic oak trees along Main Street and in League Park, Gripon said.
League City, with a population near 105,000, has a history of protecting trees from development. In 2012, the city paid $197,500 to move a Compton oak tree so it wouldn’t be cut down for the widening of Louisiana Avenue.
While that tree was on public land, the city has had a preservation ordinance to save trees on private land since 2007. It requires property owners to either try to avoid cutting down 15 species of protected trees or to replace trees they insist on removing with either new plantings or a donation to the city’s tree fund.
The city has saved trees because of the ordinance, Heather McKnight, the city’s arborist, said in July 2017.
Gripon wants to make it tougher, or at least much more expensive, for property owners or state agencies to cut down historic oak trees, he said.
“We need to look at our tree ordinance,” Gripon said.
Trees in the historic part of town are disappearing, advocates warn. A water oak tree at the corner of Fourth Street and Houston Avenue fell Feb. 27 in League City, blocking the street and keeping city crews busy sawing it and clearing it.
The tree had no internal decay, but the roots had some fungus and decay, said Heather McKnight, city arborist. The tree also hadn’t been taken care of, she said.
The city and property owners need to take care of the remaining trees, Gripon said.
The city’s oak trees, and efforts to increase the number of trees, are rooted in League City’s earliest history.
In 1872, George Washington Butler bought 30 acres in what is now League City, including the land where League City Elementary School is, his descendant Anita Butler said.
As the town began to develop in the late 1800s, Butler asked residents if they would pay $4 to have a live oak tree planted on their property, and many responded, she said.
Somebody in 1907 bought two live oak trees at the school site as memorials, she said.
“It’s not clear who they were in remembrance of,” Anita Butler said.