Police were called Saturday, but did not arrive in time to catch two men suspected of hacking the limbs off a stately pecan tree that sits near White Rock Lake in Lake Highlands Park at Peavy and East Lake Highlands Drive.
“I was coming down Peavy when I saw them cutting up the tree,” said Lucan Watkins, who first called the city’s 311 line, which advised her to immediately call 911. After contacting police, Watkins got her son and drove back down to the park to confront the men.
“I asked them what they were doing,” she says. “They said, ‘Oh, we’re just trimming the tree to make it look better.'”
Watkins, who sits on the board of For the Love the Lake, wasn’t buying it.
“I said, ‘What you’re doing is illegal and you have to stop,'” she says. “The man said, ‘We’re just being nice, we’re making it look better.'”
Watkins says the men used a chainsaw to sever several large branches and then cut them into logs. “I feel sure they were getting it to smoke barbecue or something,” she says. “They had jumped the curb in their truck and drove around some poles to get right by the tree.”
Police arrived quickly, within 10 minutes of being called, but the men left shortly after Watkins began taking their photo. Shana Hamilton, a community program coordinator for the city’s parks department, followed up wth a report, Watkins says.
“It is unfortunately common for residents to come on to parks property and do all sorts of stuff,” Hamilton says. “It is against city ordinance for anyone but parks staff to remove or damage any tree.”
Hamilton says this is the first time the parks department has gotten a license plate related to such an incident, which Watkins photographed, and her department was still determining how to proceed.
According to Steve Houser of the Texas Historic Tree Coalition, the tree’s unusual shape caused some to think it could be an Indian Marker Tree, which were used by Native Americans as guide post to helm them navigate the terrain. They would bend saplings, causing them to growing in odd formations making them look out of place among neighboring trees. “The bent pecan was investigated in the past, but was not confirmed to be, an Indian marker tree, at this point in time. It is a unique shaped tree and it is unfortunate that any limbs were removed,” he says.
Hamilton reminds residents that removing anything from public parks is against city ordinance, even downed trees.
“Sometimes after a big storm people will call and ask if they can take them,” she says. “Of course, I have to tell them no because it’s against city rules.”