Historic oak tree at Gales Creek School comes down

The oak tree’s massive branches. Chas Hundley//Gales Creek Journal

Editors note: The below column, written by Gales Creek resident Joyce Sauber, was written prior to the removal of the oak tree at the Gales Creek School. In an email to the Gales Creek Journal, David Warner, Forest Grove School District’s Director of Communications and Engagement said that the decision to remove the oak tree was made after consultation with an arborist revealed that two main branches were in imminent danger of falling within the next  two years. According to Warner, most of the wood will be saved to be used in future projects by the district. 

Gales Creek – When a building, landmark, tree or individuals are in our community for decades, they become a part of our local history. Such as the decades old oak tree that stands on the Gales Creek School grounds. 

It is interesting how we become attached or sentimentally attached to a tree that we may drive by on a daily basis and not given it much thought. Enjoyed the shade as we played or had a picnic under those massive limbs, covered with unique shaped leaves. 

Now that this majestic old oak tree located at the edge of Gales Creek school grounds presents a major safety issue and is scheduled for removal, the tree has a totally different meaning to each and everyone of us who in some small or huge way enjoyed its beauty all these years and may be not even been aware of your attachment. 

If this very old oak tree that has grown all these years on the Gales Creek school grounds at the edge of Old Wilson River Road could talk, what a wealth of history we could learn from it. 

This oak tree in its century and a half plus years was there beside the road when early settlers to Gales Creek traveled on horse back and in wagons pulled by oxen or horses. Later came the stage coaches that traveled from Portland to Tillamook on this stage coach road, now known as Old Wilson River Road in Gales Creek. 

Telephone and PGE power lines were placed high above this oak tree in the 1920’s and 30’s, now nearly one hundred years later an electric line rests on one of the branches. 

There have been three school buildings built on the school property. The first building around 1863, a one room building that stood very close to where the tree and little park is today. 

In 1921 the two room school building, now known as the Jennie Ranes building was built at the front of the school property on the corner of what was then the main highway, Gales Creek Road and Old Wilson River Road. The present school building was built in 1949 with many additions and upgrades over the years to date. 

The Gales Creek School had all eight grades until some time in the 1960’s when it became a K-6 and later a K-4. In the past seven years it has been Oak Grove Academy and our Gales Creek students now attend Dilley Elementary School. 

Think of all the generations of children and families who have sat under this old oak tree in the past 160 plus years and have watched it grow, enjoyed the shade it provided on a hot summer day, played in the leaves and listened to them crunch under their feet in the fall. I still see children and adults picking up their acorns, perhaps to be used in an art project or just enjoying the beauty of them. 

When my daughters Janet and Jill were little they loved to bring me acorns from our oak tree or the one on the school grounds at this time of year. We watched as squirrels took the acorns off to bury them, those they didn’t dig up later sprouted as little trees come spring time. 

As you have just read, there is so much history surrounding this very old oak tree. A tree that has weathered decades of of storms and on a calm September afternoon, dropped a very large limb across the Old Wilson River Road, blocking the road and missing my carport by 6 inches. Fortunately, no one was injured. 

Having lived in Gales Creek most of my entire life and the past 57 years directly across the road from this oak tree I have observed as it has become a very serious safety issue, with two more very large limbs destined to fall onto the road, my house, or perhaps someone. 

Asplundh contractors remove branches from the old oak tree. Chas Hundley//Gales Creek Journal

The decision to remove the old oak tree has been a very difficult and emotional one for all involved. The Forest Grove School District and a few Gales Creek residents have spent months and many hours consulting arborists and PGE (as their power lines go thru the middle of the tree) as to how to best address the massive safety issue the tree presented if nothing was done. or how the tree might be trimmed to save it and eliminate the safety issues. The only realistic solution for the safety of the students, staff and families in our community was to remove the tree and plant a couple of smaller trees. Which I am sure someone would donate. 

I would like to have you send me any special memories you have of Gales Creek School, the old oak tree or just Gales Creek in general. We have a history museum in a classroom in the Jennie Ranes building where these stories can be placed for future generations to enjoy. 

The Gales Creek School Library is open to residents of the Gales Creek valley every Thursday evening 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. with a very large selection of children’s books and some adult books. If you were interested in seeing the history/museum it could be opened during library hours.