Constable: Will 'majestic' Cary oak tree fall victim to water park?

The fear in one house at the end of Adare Drive in Cary is the park district will kill the oldest resident in town to make room for a new aquatic facility with plastic slides and bubblers.

“At the very end of this road is this magnificent oak,” says Kimberly Kobos, who fell in love with the tree after she moved into that house with her husband, Salvador Islas, in 1992. “It's probably 200 years old.”

The tree's fate, same as its towering branches, is up in the air. Will it be cut down to make way for water and sewer connections at the soon-to-be-built aquatic center?

  The majestic oak tree across from their home in Cary is so large that Kimberly Kobos and her husband, Salvador Islas, can't give it a proper hug. Burt Constable/

“I can't answer that for you right now, and I'm not going to,” says Dan Jones, the executive director of the Cary Park District. The water park, which is part of a master plan adopted in 2016, “is a huge item that people in the community wanted,” Jones says. But the park district has more than 7,000 acres, including 5.5 miles of trails, some of which wind through oak savannas.

“The park district has a passion for nature and trees,” Jones says. “We don't take them lightly.”

Not willing to stand by silently to see what the park district decides, Kobos and Islas want to get the word out in the hopes of saving that tree.

“It looks like a perfectly healthy oak tree,” says David Hall, an active environmentalist and president of The Land Conservancy of McHenry County, who visited the tree Monday. “The village of Cary is a Tree City, so if anybody is protecting ancient oaks, it should be Cary.”

While trees sometimes fall victim to development, Hall says he faced a very similar situation recently with an oak tree that was growing into power lines. Originally planning to cut down the tree, the utility “came back a couple of months later and said, 'We'll move our power lines and the tree will remain there,'” he says.

Sometimes, money spent to cut down a tree can be put to use changing the location of utility lines.

  Shortly after Kimberly Kobos and her husband, Salvador Islas, moved to Cary in 1992, she was so taken with the oak tree across the street that she made a pastel drawing titled "The Majestic Oak." Burt Constable/

Kobos says it would be “egregious” to tear down such a lovely tree to make space for water and sewer pipes to a water park. On her birthday some years after the couple moved into their house, Kobos was so enchanted with the tree that she made a pastel drawing from an upstairs window and titled it “The Majestic Oak.”

Their yard, which boasts a sign from the National Wildlife Federation proclaiming it a “certified wildlife habitat,” is home to a half-dozen young oak trees spawned from the one they hope to save. A redbud tree in their backyard shades a pond filled with goldfish. Sometimes, Islas has to cover the water with a net to keep visiting great blue herons from gobbling up his fish. Opossums, coyotes, raccoons, squirrels and foxes also have been known to visit.

  The branches of this burr oak tree have been growing in Cary since the 1800s. Plans aren't final, but the tree might have to come down as a part of plans for a new water park. Burt Constable/

A ring-necked pheasant used to hang out so much that Islas named it Pancho. The native bird was done in, Islas says, by another of nature's visitors - a hawk.

The couple lost ash trees to the emerald ash borer a few years back, which makes the oak tree that much more precious. If development plans call for the tree to be removed, Kobos says she won't witness the destruction.

“I cannot be here that day because it will break my heart,” Kobos says. “That tree will scream.”

Since McHenry County started being developed in the 1830s, the county has lost about 90% of its oak trees, says Lisa Haderlein, executive director of The Land Conservancy of McHenry County. The ones left are “ancient residents of the community,” she says, adding, “What's the average life span of a water park?”

This majestic oak in Cary has been around since the 1800s, but a new water park coming to town could change that. One local couple is hoping publicity might save the tree. Courtesy of David Hall

Haderlein says she hopes the park district can figure out a way to provide utilities to the water park without destroying that tree.

“It's a beautiful shape, a classic burr oak shape,” Haderlein says. “The tree is older than the city of Cary and has been here the whole time the city of Cary developed around it. I think we still have something to learn from that tree.”

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