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Seeing the sidewalk for the trees

by: Chase Allgood, Dan Hickman operates the controls of a tree spade while Jose Campos climbs the massive tree-mover to protect the limbs of the maple being moved off 21st Avenue as part of Forest Grove’s downtown sidewalk renovation project.

When faced with six 45-foot-tall trees in the path of a sidewalk renovation project, most local government officials would fire up the chainsaw.

In Forest Grove, they pick up the phone and call Tom Epler.

Epler, owner of EF Nursery, was a logical choice for a couple reasons. First, he has a lot of experience moving trees -- even big trees. Second, he was the one who planted the six Karpick red maples on 21st Avenue 10 years ago. Epler said he was glad to donate his crew's labor and pick up the tab for the truck-mounted tree transplanter from Big Trees Today in Hillsboro.

'They were too nice-looking' to cut down, said Epler, who estimated the city would probably have had to spend $5,000 for the work. Plus, the maples had spent a decade providing shade for parishoners at the United Church of Christ, where he and his family are active.

The trees, whose rootballs weighed more than two tons each, had to come out to accommodate the city's downtown sidewalk renovation. Contractors began working on Monday, starting on 21st Avenue, between Main Street and College Way.

The new sidewalks will have improved curb cuts for wheelchairs and feature the decorative brick accents used along Main Street in downtown Forest Grove.

They new space won't, however, allow the six towering maples to go back in the holes they came out of.

So, the trees will be stored at Epler's nursery, on Hiatt Road, south of town, while the city finds new homes for them. Options include Lincoln Park and the Forest Grove Community School.