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Auburn removes poisoned oaks at Toomer's Corner

Tuesday, April 23, 2013 | 8:43 p.m. CDT
Tree removal workers photograph the stump that is left after they cut down one of the famous oak trees at Toomer's Corner, Tuesday, in Auburn, Ala. Crews on Tuesday morning removed the limbs of the landmark oaks and left stumps lying near piles of sawdust. The trees are all but dead after being poisoned by a University of Alabama fan.

AUBURN, Ala.— Crews removed Auburn University's poisoned oak trees from their iconic posts at Toomer's Corner, bringing an end to an era and a drastic change to the landscape Tuesday morning.

Auburn fans traditionally drape the trees with toilet paper after a big victory, and tens of thousands rolled the trees after the school's spring football game last Saturday. The trees were all but dead after being poisoned by a University of Alabama fan during Auburn's 2010 run to the BCS football championship.

Workers used chain saws and heavy equipment to remove what was left of the once-lush hardwoods as throngs of people stood by taking photos, reminiscing and crying while crews dropped stumps next to piles of sawdust.

"I mean, my mom went here, my aunt went here, my grandpa went here," Erin Dye said as she wiped her eyes Tuesday. "I was hoping my future kids could roll this, too."

Some, including Cathy Tucker, of Eufaula, and her husband, Jan, visited Toomer's Corner Monday night to see the oaks one last time before they were cut down.

"To see this, which will at least temporarily stop this tradition, it's like a funeral," Tucker said.

Harvey Updyke Jr. is serving a jail term after pleading guilty to spiking the oaks with a powerful herbicide, and experts say they can't be saved.

Auburn University officials have said they plan to make memorabilia out of the trees' remains.

"The university is going to market a lot of it, mementoes available to Auburn fans," said Gary Keever, an Auburn University horticulturalist. "Some of it's going to be used to make museum-quality bowls."

Auburn is also planning to sell framed memorabilia featuring twigs, leaves and other parts of the oak trees, jewelry, and other items, said school spokesman Mike Clardy.

"It's an attempt to get pieces of the trees in to the hands of our fans," Clardy said, adding that royalties merchants pay from selling the memorabilia will be used to fund scholarship programs. "That's the one good thing that's gonna come out of this," Clardy said.

Although the oak trees are gone, Auburn fans will have opportunities to continue the rolling tradition.

School officials announced they plan to replace the trees with a system of wires strung between concrete pillars to allow Auburn fans to continue rolling while Toomer's Corner is renovated. The pillars are set to be installed before football season, Clardy said, adding that the university is working with the city of Auburn to install the poles.

"We're looking at them as temporary. We'll be planting new trees more than likely in January or February of next year, Clardy said, "We'll be trying to go back to the way things were."

Auburn is looking to plant oak trees at the corner and Clardy says it is not yet clear which species will be chosen.

Additionally, Auburn recently launched a free mobile application featuring a game allowing iPhone and iPad users to drape digital versions of the trees in toilet paper using their touch screen devices.


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