The recent burst of fall color on the scenic tree-lined drive to Vernon Hills High School literally will be cut short on Saturday.
That's when a contractor will remove all 45 ash trees that flank the main entrance to the school off Lakeview Parkway. Nearly all have been infested with the tree killing emerald ash borer and need to go, school officials say. The removal will temporarily leave a blank landscape as ash are the only type of trees planted along the entry.
"It just makes you sick to look at these beautiful red leaves changing," Principal Ellen Cwick said Friday. "They just turned beautiful the last two days. If we were replanting in the spring, we'd probably leave them."
Though visually appealing, Cwick said, the trees don't look as good as they did last year when she first learned during a meeting with village officials that the emerald ash borer was going to be an issue throughout the community.
"We just hoped they didn't reach our site for three or four years," she said. "We had our fingers crossed, hoping they wouldn't reach us."
But the telltale thinning of the crown of the trees is apparent, and 43 of the 45 are infested, officials said.
School officials met with village experts and decided to replace the ash trees with four different varieties, including maple and elm. The work is being done now to avoid the beetle larvae that would appear in spring.
Also, prices are less expensive at the end of the planting season, Cwick said. Trees planted now also will have time to get established before the spring growing season.
"We're doing this quickly because we want to replant," Cwick said.
Tree removal and replacement will cost about $14,500, she estimated. New trees will be planted beginning on Columbus Day, Oct. 14.
Vernon Hills has been hard hit by the lethal invader. More than 550 ash trees have been removed and replaced in the past year, according to David Brown, the village's public works director.
"It was quite overwhelming of a task," he said.
But there is more to come as the end of the 3,600 ash trees on village property nears.
"We're anticipating we'll be faced with 900 to 1,000 ash trees we'll have to remove," before next spring, he said. "The whole area is infested -- surrounding communities all have EAB. We're going to remove trees all year round instead of a certain non-flight period" for the insects.
The emerald ash borer is a small, metallic-green beetle native to Asia that has killed more than 25 million ash trees since it was first detected in 2002 near Detroit, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
In Illinois, the emerald ash borer was discovered in June 2006 in Lily Lake in Kane County. Forty-one Illinois counties currently are under quarantine to prevent the artificial or "human-assisted" spread of the beetle through the movement of infested wood and nursery stock, according to IDNR.