Twin spruce trees removed from front of Twin Spruce school

Mark Porter of AC Tree Service climbs one of the spruce trees outside of Twin Spruce Junior High School after cutting the majority of the limbs off the morning of Monday, Dec. 27. The 87-year-old trees that provided the name for the junior high school were removed because of poor health. (Photo by Mike Moore, Gillette News Record)

GILLETTE — After 87 years of standing above Gillette Avenue, the two spruce trees that towered in front of Twin Spruce Junior High School for decades are gone.

A tree-removal crew took down the two ailing trees over the course of Dec. 27 and 28, clearing the way for the two replacement trees planted in 1998 to carry on the school’s namesake.

“I loved those trees, they were part of the school … for 87 years ,” said David Foreman, principal of Twin Spruce from 1990-2014. “All good things, sometimes, have to come to an end and according to the experts, they weren’t going to last long.”

School district officials decided to remove the roughly 65-foot trees during the school’s Christmas break on the recommendation of county and city arborists and after years of monitoring the health of the trees.

Foreman, who is also a school board member, said he drove past the school on Dec. 28 to see it for the first time without the iconic towers in front.

“It’s kind of an end of an era,” he said.

When he drove by, just part of one tree remained. Seeing the school he was a part of for decades without those trees in front was difficult, he said. But he believes the district officials and arborists made the right call.

“Well, I can’t say I felt good about it but I think it was the right thing to do,” he added.

One tree had a pronounced lean to it, which Foreman said worried him even when he was with the school. Both trees dealt with spruce spider mites, compaction issues with the soil and root damage. They were both diagnosed with Rhizosphaera, a fungal disease found in spruce trees, when evaluated in 2015.

County Parks Supervisor Roy Holdeman and Wendy Clements, city arborist, each conducted hazard evaluations on the trees this year and determined it was finally time for them to go.

Although the trees stood tall since planted in 1934, Holdeman and Clements advised the chance of the trees toppling — however unlikely — with the school building, students and staff nearby, was too great of a risk to wait until summer.

“Eighty-seven years is a long time,” Foreman said. “Trees like that can live in the forest for a whole lot longer but with the town growing and all that other stuff, they had a lot of problems to deal with … they weren’t going to last much longer.”

The district planned to keep wood from the since-chopped trees for future woodwork projects to commemorate the legendary spruce trees.

“They can live on if they’re turned into something else,” Foreman said. “I’m very much in favor of that.”

The two trees lived through a lot of Gillette history.

When they were first planted by a man named Charles Barkley, who was 19 at the time, the building was Campbell County High School. It became a junior high school in the 1970s, and in September 1978, the name “Twin Spruce” came to be.

Barkley helped plant the replacement trees in 1998, when Foreman was principal of the junior high. At that time, the health of the trees was in doubt, with some at the time estimating about 10 more years of life for the spruces.

But the originals lasted 23 more years, leaving two 30-foot replacements in their stead.

Those who say there are no trees in Campbell County clearly never drove up Gillette Avenue, or across Seventh Street, where the giant spruces dominated the view, drawing eyes like the vanishing point on the portrait of Gillette.

Then just like that, last week, they actually vanished.

It may take time for the two young replacements to gain the stature of their predecessors, but as long as they continue to grow in the years and decades to come, the defining characteristic of Twin Spruce continues on.