Oak trees in Windsor that have stood at least 150 years were dismantled methodically Tuesday with a chain saw that dissected their limbs and trunks and sent them crashing to earth.
Despite a last-ditch effort to save the trees along Old Redwood Highway, they were cut down — landing with loud thuds — to make way for street improvements associated with a large residential-commercial project that includes an Oliver's supermarket and shopping center.
Five big oaks in particular, including a couple three feet in diameter, became the focus of a short-lived campaign to spare some some of them from destruction.
But there was no last-minute reprieve.
Windsor officials said the decision had been made a couple years ago to remove them to make way for improvements that are part of Bell Village.
But many trees are being retained, including a few bigger and older oaks, such as a 63-inch-diameter, 300-year-old specimen that will be the centerpiece of the new development.
"It's sad," interim community development director Ned Thomas acknowledged as he watched one of the larger oaks being chopped down. "The one saving grace is that great pains have been taken to preserve the nicest trees."
The trees are coming down, he noted, to make way for a a "complete street" that caters to pedestrians, bicycles and cars. Parking spaces, bike lanes and a couple roundabouts will be added to Old Redwood Highway.
Much discussion and study went into the project, Thomas said, and the site — the former Windsorland mobile home and trailer park — was examined by arborists multiple times.
"What the Town Council had to weigh was the redevelopment of this property. Clearly it's a very valuable piece of property, a key development site in the downtown area," Thomas said of the 25 acres.
But not everyone was convinced some of the large oaks along the highway had to go, including councilman Sam Salmon who two weeks ago tried to get his fellow council members to re-examine the issue before the work went ahead.
He had become aware of a last-minute, on-line petition to spare the "heritage" oaks and said that was sufficient reason to bring it back to the council for reconsideration.
"I didn't get any traction. They said the decision was made some time ago and that was the end of it," he said Tuesday. "It was pretty disappointing. There was not much I could do."
Eric Wee, a Windsor web page entrepreneur who spearheaded a failed effort to save the trees, said they have been alive since the beginning of Windsor as a farming community in the mid-1800s "and you just wipe them out in one afternoon. That scars a community. It's not taken lightly."
But arborists on the job site Tuesday indicated that not all the trees — even the one being saved — are in the best of health.
One nearby, 30-inch oak toppled in a storm in January, and although it had seemed healthy by outer appearances, it had oak root fungus, said arborist Becky Duckles.
On Tuesday she was using a large mallet to tap remaining trees and the sound she got from one indicated it also might have some rot.
"These trees were maintained by a drainage ditch for years," she said, adding that it can take a toll on the roots.