The beautiful, mature crape myrtle trees, planted a decade ago along U.S. 301 in Riverview, have been on the chopping block more than once, as the Great Recession, then road construction promised to doom them.
Thanks to local businesses that stepped up and agreed to maintain the trees during the lean months of the Great Recession, the trees, purchased with a government grant, made it through.
This time, construction of a new charter school at Bloomingdale Avenue and U.S. 301 and the lengthening of a turn lane to accommodate the ensuing traffic led to the destruction of more than 30 of the crape myrtles.
The Florida Department of Transportation, last week, though, stepped up and offered to replace every lost tree, at the urging of Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White and his staff.
David Garcia, White’s legislative aide, said he is awaiting specifics of the deal, including the timing of planting new trees along other medians on U.S. 301.
“I was one of the guys that wrote that original grant,” said Riverview resident Richard Bailey. “We just wanted trees and plants. We’re tree people,” he said, referring to himself, engineer Amy Kowalski and a few others who secured the grant in 1998. Initially, nearly 80 trees were planted.
“They’re beauties,” blooming and thriving in soil so poor that it shouldn’t support any life at all,” Bailey said. “It’s a tough place for a tree to grow. When they built the road, they laid lime rock even through the medians. So, to plant trees, you have to dig through 6 inches of lime rock and sorry soil. That is an amazing tree that can grow in a nightmare situation. That’s a story in itself — what kind of tree can handle all that when we struggle to get so many other trees just to stay alive? And they are beautiful, still, after all these years. They’re just gorgeous.
“It seems like every time they want to build something, the trees go on the chopping block,” Bailey said. “You would not believe how many hours we put in to writing and securing the grant” for the trees,” he said.
He said he was happy to hear that FDOT is stepping up to replace the trees.
Over the years, local businesses and the Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce have probably invested about $72,000 in the trees, Chamber Executive Director Tanya Duran said.
She and other chamber members went to the board of county commissioners recently to make a case for replacing the trees, something the new Bridge Prep Academy charter school showed no interest in doing. Because the trees are mature, they would only have a 50-50 chance of survival, according to three arborists the chamber contacted.
Still, the trees are part of Riverview’s beauty and not something the area residents and businesses want to lose, Duran said.
“I hope they will continue to have them,” Bailey said. “It breaks my heart when the trees have to lose. Maybe they should place them north of Bloomingdale and south of Riverview Drive” so there is less chance they’ll again land on the nix list,” he said.
“What we know right now is that FDOT is willing to replace the trees,” Garcia said. “That includes installation and the purchasing of the trees. We don’t yet know what size they will be. We have asked for a time line, the size of the trees, where they will be planted and other specific questions.”
There may also be some grant money available through the county’s Neighborhood Relations Department for the chamber to use to add shrubbery around the new trees, Garcia said.