A historically significant oak tree in the Fort Braden community will no longer be cut down thanks to a petition started by local residents. Big Oak Tree, as it is locally known, was scheduled to be removed to make room for new power lines that are being installed along Blountstown Highway.
On Wednesday, Leon County government administrator Vincent Long sent an email to the board of county commissioners officially confirming that the tree will not be cut down.
Big Oak Tree sits directly next to the Blountstown Highway, which is a stretch of State Road 20, directly in front of the Old Fort Braden School. The site is located about 10 miles west of Tallahassee and includes a public park with a playground, a walking trail and a public library.
Duke Energy, a local electric utility company, has been working to replace 13.8 miles of existing power lines in the area as part of an ongoing project. The new power lines are stronger with concrete reinforcements and are supposed to be more storm resistant.
Members of the Fort Braden community have been doing everything in their power to prevent the Big Oak Tree from being cut down. On top of the petitioning, they have been reaching out to county commissioners and other local government officials. A petition on the website change.org received hundreds of signatures.
Beth Young, who organized the initiative, said that the plan to remove the tree was a display of “poor judgment and atrocious stewardship” and “a cruel disregard of the worth, value, and dignity of a mature, beautiful tree, which cannot be replaced.”
The Old Fort Braden School was constructed in 1926. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. For that reason, Big Oak Tree has been a symbolic and enduring landmark of the community, and most residents have lived with the tree for as long as they can remember.
Nick Turner has lived in Fort Braden his entire life. He attended the Fort Braden School during elementary and middle school, and because this is the only school in town, graduated from Godby High School in Tallahassee. He still lives in Fort Braden and works at a family-owned corner store.
“This community is so close knit and such a family because we’ve always been closed off from the craziness in town,” Turner said.
According to Turner, local residents visit his store often, and frequently expressed their dismay about the new power lines. Apparently, had Big Oak Tree been removed, it would not have been the only casualty of the ongoing project. Duke Energy has cut down many trees and cleared large swaths of land to make room for the new power lines.
Despite these unwelcome developments, residents of the Fort Braden community are relieved to know that their efforts were not in vain, thanks to the latest announcement from the county. Fort Braden is small and rural with a strong sense of community and, for all intents and purposes, most residents hope that it stays that way. As Nick Turner said, “This is country – the country part of Leon County. This is the lakeside.”