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Iconic tree comes down at Gradin Park

The 100-year-old black walnut tree was beginning to rot

Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JODI WEINBERGER - Rod Gradin gets a last look at a tree from his childhood.When Rod Gradin looks out at the eponymously named Gradin Community Sports Park in Gresham he sees his childhood.

Springwater Trail High School was built on the ground Gradin used to plow in preparation for seeding potatoes.

A baseball diamond is site of a former cavernous brick well, where his family used to draw water.

And Gradin remembers the towering black walnut trees where he often would sleep under the stars.

“I would build a fort and stay out there at night,” Gradin said. “I had walnut fights with the neighbor kids.

“They sting!” he said, laughing.

On Tuesday, Feb. 3, Gradin took a last look at one of the most iconic black walnut trees in the park: a 60-foot, moss-covered behemoth with sprawling limbs that’s served as one of the only remaining relics of a time when the sports complex was a working farm with berry fields and cannery.

Workers spent all of the rainy Tuesday felling the tree from the top down to its stump.

The old walnut had been weakened by disease for years, making the exterior soft and brittle, and a safety hazard for visitors to the sports park.

The 33-acre park was donated to the city in 1990 From the Melvin T. Gradin Trust, but took nearly 20 years to build up with soccer and softball fields and an arboretum.

Walking around the property, Gradin spoke of its past where he and his six siblings would run around and climb trees.

His father, Melvin Gradin had been born and died in the same room in a farm house that used to stand on the property. A heart shaped garden that his mother, Amy, tended is mostly intact, and inside it remains shrubbery that Rod Gradin remembered growing from a sapling on his kitchen table.

People living in the surrounding neighborhood came out Tuesday too to say goodbye to the tree.

“We’ve lived here for 17 years around the corner,” said Vernette Lloyd-Hembd. “We’ve taken so many pictures in front of the tree. It was kind of emotional.”

Another neighbor, Heather Guilbault, called the tree “very majestic” when it was healthy.

Those driving by the park in the last few weeks could see that it would soon be removed, the city had installed a fence around the tree and marked it with orange spray paint.

Gradin, who now lives in Boring, called his siblings to tell them of its removal.

“I had to expect those trees to come down to make it part of the Gradin Sports Park,” said Wesley Gradin, the oldest of the Gradin children, who now lives in Portland. “It was quite an interesting one. I understood it was 100 years old ... it was beginning to deteriorate.”

Some of the wood from the tree will be made into mementos for the Gradins in the form of hand-turned bowls, and the city also will repurpose a six-inch cross section of the stump to create a table or bench for public use.

A new tree will be planted in the same spot.

Wesley’s wife, Dolores Gradin, called the tree removal “the end of an era.”

“It was a nice old tree,” Rod Gradin said. “I kinda hate to see it come down, but that’s the way it is.”

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