Oak Park Unified School District’s Wishtree was blown over during a storm over winter break. The tree sat at the corner of Calle Rio Vista and Oak Hills Drive next to the high school varsity softball field and was part of a mini-park created in 2018 with park benches.
“It was blown over by strong winds during a strong storm cell that landed right on top of Oak Park and saturated that area [causing the tree to fall],” Oak Park High School Principal Kevin Buchanan said.
The Wishtree became an important part of the district during the summer Community Read where students and parents read “Wishtree” by Katherine Applegate. The tree was about 300 years old according to arborists. It was a Valley Oak which are native to the area.
“In its lifetime it saw the Chumash who dwelled in the hills, the Spanish and the missionary period and the development of Oak Park form cattle ranch to suburb,” Director of Curriculum and Instruction Jay Greenlinger said.
The Community Read occurs every year where the district discusses a novel in the upcoming school year. During the 2018 discussion of “Wishtree” by Katherine Applegate, attendees gathered under the tree and tied wishes on its branches. The tradition was continued in the next year.
“At the October 2019 community book talk, we again met under the wishtree to discuss Full Cicada Moon and to tie our wishes to the tree,” Greenlinger said.
There was no damage to the mini-park or individuals as the tree fell away from the fence.
“We cut the limbs off that were blocking the sidewalk. We did that right away the day it fell,” Buchanan said.
The unusual storm consisted of extremely heavy rain falling in a short period of time, which is destructive to trees.
“I was devastated to learn of this loss. We are seeing this happen all over the world. Many old and historic trees in Europe have been lost in the last few years as victims of storms like this,” Knight said.
The staff has since met to discuss the future of the tree and are looking to continue the tradition of the Wishtree.
“[The first is to] identify a new wishtree, perhaps another valley oak in the same meadow area, and second, we are working with “urban lumber” experts to repurpose as much of the tree,” Greenlinger said.
The main goal for the repurposing of wood from the Wishtree is to keep the tree as part of the heart and history of the Oak Park Unified District.
“This particular tree seemed to be the perfect tree in the perfect place,” Greenlinger said.