Akron’s Big Ash Problem

Visit the Big Ash’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/bigashtreeand follow them on Twitter @BigAshTree!

Come support Save Our Big Ash Tree at the Highland Square Music and Arts Festival on June 8!

Highland Square in Akron, Ohio has some new tenants in its oldest structure. The giant, 80 year old ash tree in the back of the empty lot across from Angel Falls Coffee is being occupied by activists who wish to save it—and their neighborhood.

Oliver Evans and Katie Johanni use ropes and harnesses to navigate the tree which they have taken turns inhabiting.

Oliver Evans and Katie Johanni use ropes and harnesses to navigate the tree which they have taken turns inhabiting.

A two-story building being built on the lot will house bars, retail, and a few apartments, but at what cost the community? “The neighborhood is being ignored,” said Amy Spencer, one of the original tree-dwellers. “More bars will bring additional undesirable traffic and noise to this residential community.

The tree in question was slated to be cut down today, but workers were unable to do so as several people have been staying there for the past three days and nights. Amy Spencer and her sister first noticed that the tree was to be felled after seeing construction workers place a large orange “X” on the trunk. During the workers’ lunch break, they free-climbed the tree and have been there ever since.

“Community members have been very supportive,” said Spencer. “Many have expressed that they do not want another bar in the area.” Concerned citizens and local residents dare demonstrating this overwhelming support by donating food and supplies. The rotating group of live-in demonstrators claim they are not trespassing because the tree is technically on the property of the bright blue house behind it, whose tenants have allowed them to stay.

The project is already panning out to be a “logistical nightmare,” according to David DiDomenico, a sympathizer with the cause. “There are issues with insufficient parking, water drainage, and the fact that the bars will only be accessible through an alley in the back of the building, which faces homes,” he said. The construction of this alley will destroy the “Blueberry house,” a bright blue house that serves as a local landmark, a few other residential structures, and, of course, the giant ash tree.

The proposed structure will be mere feet away from the Highland Square Akron Public Library, seen here across the empty lot.

The proposed structure will be mere feet away from the Highland Square Akron Public Library, seen here across the empty lot.

Then there’s the fact that the proposed nightclubs will be directly next to the Highland Square Akron Public Library. The officials at the library weren’t made aware of their right of refusal to have bars put in next door until very recently, according to DiDomenico. In addition, the sidewalk to access the bars will have to pass through the library’s property.

With an arborist coming to examine the tree in the next few days to make sure the tree is healthy and in good condition, the main issue remains: how will this new space affect the Highland Square community? The building will house a new bar, as well as some older retailers across the street. But, due to high rental rates, “the only things that will be able to replace [these retailers] are more bars,” said DiDomenico.

These protestors envision a better future for their community than a bunch of noisy bars. “[Highland Square] is becoming such a nice area in Akron,” said Spencer. “We would love to see a community garden put in.”

Perhaps we will get to see a large-scale neighborhood garden in the near future. And hopefully Highland Square will continue to be a thriving center for the West Akron community. But one thing is certain: that ash is not going anywhere.

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