Vashon's beloved tulip treee comes down

A tree service takes down the tulip tree, a
A tree service takes down the tulip tree, a 'landmark tree,' designated by the Vashon chapter of the Audubon Society.
— image credit: Amelia Heagerty

A beloved and massive tulip tree at the edge of Island Lumber's parking lot on Bank Road was felled on Wednesday, leaving an empty spot not only along the busy road but also in many Islanders' hearts.

The tree, a bright yellow beacon when it changed colors each fall, was considered a "landmark tree," according to a designation assigned by the Vashon-Maury Island Audubon Society several years ago. Though the designation carried no official weight, it suggested the tree's importance to the Island's natural and cultural heritage, said Candy Gamble, one of many Islanders who loved the old specimen.

"It just knocked your socks off when you came up over the hill on Bank Road in the fall, turning that bright, bright lemon yellow," she said. "It was so spectacular."

Earl Buskirk, the owner of Island Lumber, said he had the tree taken down because it was dying and had lost some large limbs in recent wind storms.

"I felt I had to get that thing down before somebody gets hurt," he said.

Buskirk said he tried to protect the tree when his retail store was built and a parking lot laid in 2001. He didn't bring the asphalt right up to the trunk, he said.

"It was our intent to leave the tree right where it was," he said.

But the tree's steady decline — some say because the paving project did, in fact, hurt it — has been obvious in recent years, Gamble said.

"There was something about it that was real special," she said. "I saw it every day, and I just watched it slowly die."

Gamble, the former director of the Vashon Artists in Schools Program, collaborated with the Audubon chapter on art projects focused on the Island's legacy trees. In 1997, 10 students — five from the high school and five from the elementary school — teamed up to do a "traveling tree mural" that included a beautiful painting of the tulip tree, she said.

As part of that project, Gamble did some research on the tulip tree and learned that it had been planted by the Eernisse family about 100 years ago, one of a handful of specimen trees the family planted.

Gamble, who wrote a haiku about the tree's passing, said the old giant holds a place in her heart.

"I have felt a special attachment to that tree since we moved here 27 years ago," she said. "It deserves a dignified send-off."

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