Boise’s mighty sequoia made the overnight trip this weekend to its new resting spot at a site in nearby Fort Boise Park.
Knowing its importance to the community, St. Luke’s Health System said it spent $300,000 to move the largest sequoia in the state.
More than a century after it was planted as a sapling in a doctor’s yard in Boise, the 10-story tree was shifted across the street to make way for a hospital expansion.
Crews started rolling the tree down Fort Street at 1 a.m. Sunday, said Anita Kissée, a spokeswoman for St. Luke’s Health System. The tree reached its new turf Sunday morning.
“St. Luke’s is honored that so many people came out today, even in the dead of night, to watch this moment in Idaho history, and to show their support for saving the tree,” Kissée said.
All this week, crews from Environmental Design Inc., a company whose specialty is moving large trees, had been building a steel platform under the tree and a plywood support that helps contain the roots.
Once it reached its destination, crews had a bit of trouble because the inflation tubes that carried it were too long for the hole that had been dug, Kissée said. They made the hole bigger and placed the tree in at about 11:15 a.m. The movers plan to let the tree settle overnight and work on leveling it Monday, she said. They’ll also move a lot of the soil from the original site to help the tree adapt, she said.
“We understand the importance of this tree to this community,” said Kissée. Cutting it down “was never even an option.”
“It’s in place and will need to be leveled tomorrow, then filled in with the transplant dirt,” she said.
“We’ve all got our fingers crossed that the tree is going to make it,” said Mary Grandjean earlier this week. Grandjean is the granddaughter of an Idaho forester who received the sequoia seedlings from naturalist John Muir around 1912.
More about the tree
The giant tree grew from a tiny cutting of a sequoia presented as a gift to Dr. Fred Pittenger by the conservationist Emil Grandjean, one of Idaho’s first foresters.
Pittenger’s gardener planted the sequoia around 1912 at what was then the Pittenger family estate. The Pittengers, Alice and Fred, were community leaders. They were both medical doctors.
Alice founded Camp Alice Pittenger, a Girl Scout camp still in operation in McCall, and the Children’s Home in Boise. She died in 1953. Fred served as Idaho surgeon general. He died in 1964. New owners moved the Pittenger house to Caldwell, but the sequoia stayed behind.
The move’s challenges
Tree mover David Cox said the sequoia is the tallest tree that Environmental Design has ever moved, as well as having the greatest circumference — more than 20 feet around near its base. Cox said soil analysis was done at the transplant site to ensure it will allow the tree to keep growing. Cox said there’s a 95 percent chance the tree will survive.
The tree became a holiday attraction in the 1980s after the hospital began the tradition of stringing it with thousands of Christmas lights. Unfortunately, the decorations took a toll on the health of the tree. St. Luke’s consulted with horticulturists, removed the asphalt from around the sequoia’s trunk and stopped decorating it.
Eventually, experts were able to revitalize the tree by removing 11 feet from the top and bending a “leader” branch up to replace the treetop. The cure worked, though it did give the tree its distinctive Prussian helmet shape. The new tip is 15 feet and grew 4 inches this year.
Sequoias, more suited to regions such as Northern California, are relatively rare in the area. The Pittenger sequoia does have a local cousin, growing on the grounds of North Junior High School at Fort and 13th streets.
Eric Geyser, who lives near the hospital, was watching the action last week in a baseball cap emblazoned with a tree.
“I’ve been coming over a couple times a day to watch the progress,” he said. “I’m pleased that they’re taking the time and the expense to move this tree. … I think it deserves another chance rather than being cut down.”
Geyser said the tree is special to him, and it clearly holds meaning for a lot of people.
“We heard from so many people who shared their memories connected to the landmark, and their gratefulness to St. Luke’s for taking these extraordinary steps to preserve it,” Kissee said. “Their curiosity about the process, albeit slow and methodical, was exciting. … We look forward to watching the tree thrive in the years to come and more memories being made in Fort Boise Park.”