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Woman calls for help to save cottonwood from ax

WATSON -- A Watson woman is rallying support to spare a landmark tree from the ax.

Kylene Olson, former mayor of Watson, is attempting to save the Mile Tree along Minnesota Highway 7/U.S. Highway 59 south of Watson. She believes the cottonwood could be 150 years old.

It is slated to be felled as part of a project to build a sanitary sewer line from Watson to Montevideo.

Olson said Monday that U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., has offered to write a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development in support of sparing the tree. The agency is helping finance the public works project.

Olson said she has also received verbal assurances from engineers and the project manager that they are reviewing possible options to spare the tree. Olson said a project manager with the Minneapolis engineering firm of Widseth, Smith, Nolting and Associates told her the firm is even looking at the possibility of directional boring to make it possible to bypass the tree if necessary.

The tree has been a landmark for as long as anyone can remember, said Olson. She talked to one 85-year-old Watson man who told her he remembers the tree as being large when he was a youth.

Olson said she learned the tree was to be felled when by chance she ran into a construction supervisor for the project at the Corner Store in Watson last week. She didn't believe the tree was slated to be cut down, but asked him anyway: "You aren't cutting down the Mile Tree, are you?''

When told it was indeed slated for removal, she responded: "Tell me what day you are going to do it because I'm going to chain myself to the tree.''

She followed up with phone calls and e-mails to the project engineering firm. The firm assured her they would contact the Minnesota Department of Transportation and see if the route could be modified to save the tree. They are also initiating contact with the affected landowner to see if an easement for the site can be obtained.

Olson said there is ample room at the site of the tree for a change in course. If the landowner is not willing to accommodate a modified route, the engineers will look at using directional boring to bypass it, she said.

Follow the effort to save the tree on Olson's Facebook page:

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335