Inspired by 150-year-old oak, woman raising money for trees on Highway 26
MILTON When Tracy Hegg moved from Denver to Milton more than a decade ago, she fell in love with the lush trees of her new home.
She also noticed every shady grove on her commute to work on Highway 26.
“That’s when I first started driving by the tree,” she said, referring to an especially stately 150-year-old bur oak that many motorists admired and loved.
The great oak with a massive crown spread of almost 100 feet inspired Tracy, a graphic designer.
“That’s why I was so heartbroken,” she said.
Workers removed the historic oak—and hundreds of other trees—last month to make room for the Highway 26 expansion north of the Rock County line. Emptiness now fills the wide space where trees once lined the road.
“It was very shocking,” Tracy said. “It evoked a deep emotional response to see all those trees cut down.”
Tracy said she is not angry about the highway construction, just sad to see the signature oak and so many other trees gone.
Out of her grief came an idea for replanting.
Tracy designed posters of the historic oak in four seasons and is selling them to raise money to put new trees along the highway. The $10 poster is titled, “Our Favorite Tree,” and reads: “Nature at its finest, you will be missed, 2013.”
Tracy is working in cooperation with the Rock and Jefferson county parks departments.
“I printed 1,000 posters,” she said. “We’re hoping to sell all of them, which would raise close to $10,000 because I need to pay sales tax.”
In Rock County, the money will go into a special fund to make improvements to the new bike path along the highway, including the planting of trees.
“I think it’s great anytime someone steps up with an idea like this,” said Rock County Parks Director Lori Williams.
In Jefferson County, the money will go into a special tree fund.
“I think it’s fantastic,” said Jefferson County Parks Director Joe Nehmer. “We lost a tremendous amount of desirable trees, including several hundred nice bur oaks. We would like to replace them in the bike trail corridor as soon as the expansion project is complete.”
A bike trail stretches along the highway north from Janesville and eventually will reach all the way to Highway 60 in Dodge County.
Nehmer called Tracy a “citizen leader who inspires us.”
“People like Tracy build a better tomorrow,” Nehmer said. “Her desire to create a more beautiful space will be successful. We have no way of replacing the signature oak, but we hope to create an area that is even more beautiful than it once was.”
Tracy began photographing the oak in 2009 with the intention of using the photos in some kind of design project.
“I knew I wanted to take a picture of the tree the first time I saw it,” she said.
She snapped her winter photo on a December morning after wet snow. Then, she made black and white prints and gave them away for Christmas.
The following year, she decided to take a photo of the old oak in every season.
“I wanted that bright green of new leaves in spring, but I didn’t want the tree to be completely leafed out, “Tracy said. “I wanted to be able to see the unique characteristics of the branches with the new green.”
Every day, she looked closely at the tree and waited for the buds to unfold.
“That bright green, just before it turns into a darker, richer green, is my favorite color,” Tracy said.
She snapped her summer photo in late August, when the tree with its elegant symmetry of branches was completely leafed out. For autumn, she took a photo in early October, when all the leaves had turned a golden hue.
After Tracy designed and printed a poster in memory of the oak, she knew she wanted to share it with people who loved the tree as much as she.
“The decision to sell the poster was driven by a passion to keep the tree alive,” she said. “It’s a way to remember the beautiful tree. If it helps bring back trees for my children and future generations, I think it is well worth it.”
Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.