Land that is used for new communities is often razed and replanted with compact, well-behaved plants that won’t break the plumbing. But in Wellen Park, the fast-growing south Sarasota community of roughly 8,500 residents, 26 mature live oak trees are being moved into its downtown to “create a sense of authenticity and nostalgia,” says Rick Severance, the president of Wellen Park.
Yesterday, the Heritage Tree Program kicked off with its first (and biggest) tree transplant. Near the Wellen Park Welcome Center, a live oak tree that is 96 inches in diameter and weighs roughly 500,000 pounds was moved more than 700 feet, so it can take root in the heart of the community and act as the “hub of a wheel,” in Severance's words. Children’s splash pads, retail shops, a park, a rooftop bar and food truck area, slated to be completed in about two years, will surround it. The relocated oak trees will greet those entering Wellen Park from U.S. 41 and traveling along Wellen Park Boulevard into the downtown core.
The overall project costs a little less than $1 million and has been privately funded by Wellen Park developers. Caring for the trees, all located within a mile of their final destination, started roughly 18 months ago. Kimley-Horn, a nationwide planning, engineering and design firm, and Environmental Design, a Texas-based tree transplantation company, are working with Wellen Park officials to identify and relocate them.
Before moving the trees, underbrush was cleared and the tree’s root segments were cut one portion at a time, every other month, to cause them as little stress as possible. "Over the course of nine to 12 months, they grew a new root ball,” says Chris Cianfaglione, a landscape architect with Kimley-Horn. During that process, they’re watered and treated with fertilizer to keep them strong and healthy.
Yesterday’s tree relocation took a team of eight. The live oak will be surrounded with a protective barrier as it takes root in its new home and construction around it continues.
Thanks to a growing focus on the importance of trees, Paul Cox of Environmental Design says it’s slowly becoming more common to relocate them thanks to area regulations that protect them. It’s less common with new community developments like Wellen Park. “I think it'll become the model for the developers who choose to do the right thing,” says Cox.