University neighborhood fights to save its trees

This tree, in front of Bierman Place Apartments, was broken but still shows signs of life.

Marcy-Holmes neighborhood resident Ardes Johnson said there have been drunken murderers stumbling through her neighborhood.

The victims are young trees, planted within the past few years along Marcy-Holmes boulevards, which residents sometimes discover are snapped in half.

"It happens usually on weekends, and I think it's drunken sailors walking on 14th and 15th avenues, showing off their strength," Johnson said. "They just knock the trees over."

Johnson is chairwoman of the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association's Neighborhood Revitalization Program Committee, which spent about $7,700 this spring to plant new trees.

Melissa Bean, executive director of the neighborhood association, called the repeated tree slayings "pathetic."

"For every tree the city has to replace, that's money that the neighborhood won't have for other projects," she said. "We're mad."

The most recent sapling attack happened on 14th Avenue Southeast sometime last week. That tree was removed by the city.

Another tree in front of Bierman Place Apartments, at 14th Avenue Southeast and Sixth Street Southeast, was broken off at the top, but still shows signs of life: Tender green shoots and leaves sprout from where it was lopped off.

Johnson, a 15-year resident of the neighborhood, said she doesn't remember how many times the trees have been replaced.

A quick foot tour of the three-block area bound by 14th and 15th avenues and Fifth and Eighth streets southeast reveals at least four badly damaged saplings and three holes where young trees have been removed.

Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Forestry Director Ralph Sievert said he wasn't aware of any "big rash of destruction," but the city would continue to replace dead trees.

Until new saplings grow to have trunks 3 inches to 4 inches in diameter, the trees are susceptible to breakage, Sievert said.

"They're very young trees - the diameter of the trunk is less than 2 inches - so they break off very easily," Johnson said. "If the city could afford more mature trees, we might have some that survive."

While larger trees are harder to break, it's still hard to prevent vandalism, Sievert said. Getting potential vandals involved in the tree-planting process helps, as do temporary fences, Sievert said.

In 2003, Troop 100 Boy Scout Peter Vang built wooden fences around 10 "vulnerable" trees in Marcy-Holmes for his Eagle Scout project.

"There were a lot of parties and drunk people - college students - that would somehow pull those trees down and push them over," Vang said.

Vang, along with a few other Scouts from his Minneapolis troop, built the wood and chicken wire fences with city and troop money based on a similar project in south Minneapolis.

Vang said University student groups might want to think about protecting new trees in the neighborhood.

"I think it's a good community project for anyone who cares about nature," Vang said.

Planting young trees can be a large investment. A sapling costs about $90 for the city, but the total planting process costs more like $250 a tree, Sievert said.

Add water and five years later that tree could provide enough shade to park a car under, he said.

That's a big deal for someone locked out of her house in the heat of the day, like psychology senior Sarah Mraz was Monday afternoon.

In the shade of a large tree, Mraz said she wouldn't be surprised if the trees were broken by students heading home from bars.

"I've seen people ripping branches off of trees ... it might seem like a fun activity for a drunk," Mraz said.

Patty Hamilton, a 26-year-old who lives in an apartment on Sixth Street Southeast between 14th and 15th avenues, said drunken revelers don't snap only saplings.

"From 12 o'clock on, the neighborhood is loud: music, screaming, bottles breaking. Marcy-Holmes needs to work better with the bars," she said.

Johnson said she hopes for Minneapolis, the University and Dinkytown businesses to coordinate more closely with the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association.

"We just need help," she said. "The residents have worked hard to make it a good neighborhood."

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