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NDSU Dickinson Research Extension Center relocates 20 trees to accommodate future parking lot

North Dakota State University Extension Center Dickinson on Monday began the process of clearing an area intended to be used for the construction of a 53-spot parking lot.

Kevin Reilly, owner/operator of Trees On the Move Inc., places a Douglas fir into its new resting spot Monday, April 4, 2022, at the North Dakota State University Dickinson Research Extension Center. A total of 20 trees were removed from their original location — 14 to the City of Dickinson and six will be relocated throughout the research center property. The research center is looking to build a parking lot where the trees originally were located.
Kevin Reilly, owner/operator of Trees On the Move Inc., places a Douglas fir into its new resting spot Monday, April 4, 2022, at the North Dakota State University Dickinson Research Extension Center. A total of 20 trees were removed from their original location — 14 to the City of Dickinson and six will be relocated throughout the research center property. The research center is looking to build a parking lot where the trees originally were located.
Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press

DICKINSON — A tree removal company relocated 20 trees Monday morning at the North Dakota State University Dickinson Research Extension Center to accommodate the proposed parking lot for visitors. Six of the trees have been rehomed throughout the research center property, while the rest will go to the City of Dickinson.

The future 53-spot parking lot will be constructed on the east side of the NDSU office. The research center and the City of Dickinson have paired up to save the trees, where the pavement is intended to go, instead of bulldozing them. According to Director Chris Augustin, the parking lot will help with accessibility to all the research and outreach that the NDSU Dickinson Research Extension Center does throughout the year.

“One of our initial thoughts is we’re working on the parking lot just because there’s an ambiance here. We’re trying to preserve some of those trees. Those trees that we have are very rare. Those walnut trees, those might be the only walnut trees in the city,” Augustin said. “If there is an opportunity to keep sharing that stuff, absolutely. We’re happy to partner with the city. I think that’s a win-win.”

Augustin has been director for two years, and one of the main issues that has been brought to his attention is the lack of parking and inaccessibility to those who are handicapped. When he began as director, this was one of the first infrastructure projects he pitched.

“... With this process, we have to be arduous with our watering. Some of the trees will need to be staked into the ground because it’ll be a little top heavy with that root ball being not quite anchored in the soil yet. And so, those are some of the management things we’ll have to be cognizant of over the next year or two,” Augustin noted.

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City Forester Blake Johnson was also on scene as this was his first project. He noted that an assessment needs to be completed when removing trees to make sure those new areas are susceptible to those tree species. Tree removal also entails looking at sun exposure and soils.

“We’re relocating most of ours to the museum in Dickinson. And the thought process behind that is kind of the same thing with the NDSU Research Center is creating a learning center and learning area for a diversity of different species that grow in the area and (making it) very accessible to the public,” Johnson remarked.

Trees On the Move Inc. owner/operator Kevin Reilly, right, speaks with Chris Augustin, middle, and City of Dickinson Forester Blake Johnson as he digs a whole for a tree relocation Monday, April 4, 2022, at the North Dakota State University Dickinson Research Extension Center.
Trees On the Move Inc. owner/operator Kevin Reilly, right, speaks with Chris Augustin, middle, and City of Dickinson Forester Blake Johnson as he digs a whole for a tree relocation Monday, April 4, 2022, at the North Dakota State University Dickinson Research Extension Center.
Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press

As his first real project, Johnson was eager to begin.

“It feels pretty good. (I’m a) little anxious as well. I just want to make sure I’m doing whatever I can do to help out with the project and get my feet wet for the City of Dickinson,” Johnson said.

Owner/operator Kevin Reilly of Trees On the Move Inc. operates a 100-inch tree spade Monday, April 4, 2022, in Dickinson.
Owner/operator Kevin Reilly of Trees On the Move Inc. operates a 100-inch tree spade Monday, April 4, 2022, in Dickinson.
Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press

Owner/operator Kevin Reilly of Trees On the Move Inc. used a 100-inch tree spade to remove the trees. Reilly noted that the 100-inch tree spade is the largest of its kind in the upper Midwest and has worked all across the state and into South Dakota, Montana and Minnesota.

Removing trees to a new home is an intricate process, Reilly explained, highlighting that soil conditions are crucial as well as being extra cautious when transporting them to a different location.

“Being able to move big trees. it can be intimidating for people that aren’t experienced in it. Or it can be intimidating for people that have moved trees before and they didn’t have good success,” Reilly said. “Most of the time when you have a failure is when you’re using a machine that’s not large enough for the tree and we see that fairly often. But when you use a large enough machine, we run a 95% success rate.”

The rest of the process comes down to maintenance, Reilly added.

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“Whether you’re planting a small 2-foot potted tree or you’re moving a 30-foot pine tree, you still have to take care of it. Granted, when you’re moving a 30-foot pine tree, it’s a lot more water. But that’s it. We have a high success rate when we follow some of those simple rules," he said.

An historic weather station rests in the east lot of the North Dakota State University Dickinson Research Center.
An historic weather station rests in the east lot of the North Dakota State University Dickinson Research Center. The station dates back to 1894 and will be temporarily removed as construction begins for a new parking lot. Once the parking lot is completed, the weather station will return to its original space.
Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press

Along with the tree removal, the research center will move its historic weather station for the time being until the parking lot project is completed. Then it will be placed back in its original location, where it has been stationed since 1894. The old weather station was decommissioned approximately 15 years ago; the research center now has a weather station up on the north side of its facility.

“It’s been here for 130 years now… it doesn’t deserve a bulldozer,” Augustin said. “There’s some significance here. One of the interesting things that I found since I’ve been director here is when you come into Dickinson, whether it’s on the east side or the west side, the interstate jogs north a little bit. That’s because of that weather station because they didn’t want the highway project to influence all that climate data that’s been gathered over time. And so, if it was enough to move Eisenhower’s Interstate, I think it’s enough to prevent a bulldozer.”

Director Chris Augustin, of the North Dakota State University Dickinson Research Center, chats with City of Dickinson Forester Blake Johnson, right, as a tree removal company works on relocating 20 trees on the research property Monday, April 4, 2022.
Director Chris Augustin, of the North Dakota State University Dickinson Research Center, chats with City of Dickinson Forester Blake Johnson, right, as a tree removal company works on relocating 20 trees on the research property Monday, April 4, 2022.
Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press

With six of the trees being relocated throughout the research center, Augustin noted that they have a 40-acre horticulture area that’s open to the public. The goal is to build a “living learning classroom.”

“We recently planted a pollinator garden and people can go walk through that and learn about pollinator gardens and see it in person. And with this, we’re trying to work on a big horticulture project. We have over 125 tree species at the research center,” he said, adding that most of them can be GPS-tracked on NDSU’s website .

Owner/operator Kevin Reilly of Trees On the Move Inc. aligns his 100-inch tree spade to pull out a tree at the North Dakota State University Dickinson Research Extension Center and remove it to a different location on the property Monday, April 4, 2022.
Owner/operator Kevin Reilly of Trees On the Move Inc. aligns his 100-inch tree spade to pull out a tree at the North Dakota State University Dickinson Research Extension Center and remove it to a different location on the property Monday, April 4, 2022.
Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press

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Augustin added that the research center is partnering with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to plant new tree species every so often and evaluate how they grow in the Dickinson environment with its soils. The pollinator garden has nearly 35 native species.

The parking lot is slated for completion on July 1, just in time for the annual Field Day events which are slated to begin on July 13.

“Parking on the street, it’s 100 years to the main office. So this is going to help greatly with people that may have some issues,” Augustin added.

Jackie Jahfetson is a former reporter for The Dickinson Press.
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