Idaho’s oldest and tallest sequoia moved over the weekend. While the evergreen only went a short distance, the process of moving an 800,000 pound tree is no small feat.
Late Saturday night, two huge excavators make that familiar beep as they slowly back up, pulling the big tree out of its spot by St. Luke’s Hospital. With Fort Street shut down, a crowd assembles to watch the hundred-foot-tall tree make its journey of about 1,200 feet down the road.
Standing with the crowd and documenting the tree’s trip is Anita Kissee, St. Luke’s Public Relations Manager. She describes the process used to tow the tree to its new home as crews “move these giant inflation bags from the back to the front."
The crew uses a small earth mover with a forklift attachment to pick up the airbags from behind the tree, drive it to the front of the tree and place it in the sequoia’s path.
“It’s pretty fascinating to watch,” Kissee says. “I mean this is 800,000 pounds and they’re just inching it along the street.”
While the physical process of preparing the sequoia to be moved started last September, the planning has taken around 18 months. Still, it all has to come together when the rubber – or in this case, the airbags – meet the road.
Bystander Pamela Lemley, who’s among the small crowd assembled to watch the late night spectacle, says the tree is a Boise icon.
“I mean I put it up there with the train station. It’s been around forever. We all know it. It’s a landmark, for sure,” says Lemley.
As the night wears on and the tree is firmly planted in the middle of Fort Street, the crowd thins out. The crew leaves the tree in the middle of the road as they go and make final preparations at the sequoia’s new home about two blocks away.
By a little after 10 Sunday morning, the tree is almost in position. A slight miscalculation forced the crew moving the tree to do a bit of last minute digging says David Cox, a forester working on the relocation.
“We measured the tree and measured the pipe, and we forgot to measure our airbags and the valves that stick out, so we ended up being about two-and-a-half feet too narrow in our hole,” Cox says. “That’s why we had to stop and open our hole up a little wider. So that was an unforeseen circumstance. Other than that, it was beautiful.”
With midday approaching, the tree gets pushed into its final position and the big airbags underneath it are deflated. Among the spectators watching the colossus lower into the new hole is Mary Grandjean. Her grandfather received the evergreen from famous naturalist and Sierra Club founder John Muir.
Grandjean says she marvels at how long the tree has lived and also how well the big, non-native sequoia has taken to Idaho.
“My family and I are hoping that it will be enjoyed by the city for centuries to come,” she says.
Odds are good, at 95 percent, that the tree will survive the move and provide shade to future generations. Five years of follow-ups and after care are planned to make sure the giant sequoia settles into its new location comfortably.
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