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Fate of Johnson County's 'Leaning Tree' to be determined soon

Johnson County's Leaning Tree closed off to public
Posted at 1:57 PM, Jun 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-08 14:02:03-04

FRANKLIN — The fate of a natural landmark could soon be determined when Johnson County Commissioners discuss the future of the Leaning Tree at 3 p.m. Monday.

Barricades currently block Airport Road in Franklin where the Leaning Tree has bent across the roadway since the late 19th century.

The Johnson County Highway Department had an arborist inspect the tree after a complaint was filed.

The initial report showed the tree may not be safe due to interior rot at its base, and the road approaching the natural landmark is closed until a final decision is made.

Learn more about the Leaning Tree in the video above and read a letter from the Johnson County Highway Department below:

Airport Road (CR 200 East) is currently closed to all traffic between SR 252 and CR 300 South. The specific hard closure location is in the 3500 block at the location of the leaning tree. During this road closure, drivers may utilize CR 300 South, Nineveh Road (CR 100 East), and SR 252 to detour around the closure. The duration of the closure is indefinite at this time.

The Highway Department received a citizen request last week to inspect the leaning tree over Airport Road due to a concern that it has deteriorated to the point that it may fall into the road. Given the age of the tree, we reached out to an arborist with the intent of performing an initial assessment of the tree’s current condition and scheduling future periodic inspections to monitor its status over time. The initial field assessment occurred on June 4th. Based on the arborist’s assessment of the tree’s current condition, we made the decision to close the road while we await the final inspection report.

At this time the tree is not scheduled for removal. However, it appears that the tree has been slowly dying for some time. The base of the tree has experienced significant interior rot, and it is only a matter of time before it will no longer be able to support itself.

The vast majority of Johnson County Government officials are lifelong residents of the county, and we are very aware of the historic symbolism and community pride in the leaning tree. We have no desire to take the tree down unless it becomes absolutely necessary. Ultimately the arborist’s final assessment will guide the County’s decision on how to proceed. Unfortunately based on the information available to us at this time, it appears that the decision for removal has now shifted from “if” to “when.” Even if it is determined that it is safe to reopen the road for the time being with the tree remaining in place, there will eventually come a time when the tree will need to come down before it ultimately falls in front of or onto a vehicle traveling on the road.

This situation is very fluid at the moment, as we are only about 24 hours removed from the initial field inspection of the leaning tree. We are still in the process of collecting and assessing information. We understand the significance of this tree, and intend to be up‐front and transparent with the community as we navigate through this situation. There will be no action taken without the public being aware of all of the facts. This matter is currently scheduled for discussion at the Johnson County Board of Commissioners meeting on Monday, June 8, at 3:00pm. We hope to have the final assessment from the arborist available to facilitate the discussion at the meeting, but if not we will share it as soon as it is ready.

With the possibility of losing an iconic symbol like the leaning tree, we understand there will be a desire for many people to visit the site and take pictures to commemorate the tree while it is still in place. However, the road closure was put in place because we are not confident in the tree’s ability to support its weight based on the information we currently have. As such, we strongly discourage anyone from approaching the tree or placing themselves within the potential fall area. If the tree does indeed fall on its own, the poor condition of the base of the tree may result in the tree splitting or falling in multiple and unanticipated directions.

Lucas M. Mastin
Johnson County Highway Director