RIP Flo: The city will remove Barton Springs' beloved tree this week
Weeks after pausing the removal of Barton Springs Pool’s beloved pecan tree "Flo," the City of Austin said Monday it would move ahead as planned.
Flo was recently diagnosed with a fatal fungal disease that will eventually cause it to collapse. Four different arborists recommended removal citing safety risks and potential spread of the disease to nearby trees.
But the city delayed the removal after residents spoke out against it.
After taking several factors into consideration, including public input and safety, Austin Parks and Recreation Director Kimberly McNeely said Flo will be removed on Thursday while the pool is closed.
In a city memo last Friday, McNeely said the city’s structural engineer evaluated the tree and found that “the existing tree is not structurally sound resulting in imminent failure. This creates a life and safety risk for the public and must be addressed in a timely manner.”
The century-old tree is already being supported by cables and a metal structure, but arborists warn that even with supports the tree could still fall.
“A tree of this size in an area of high use, even with barricades blocking access, is a life safety hazard,” McNeely said.
But Flo will not be taken down without a celebration of life.
McNeely said the city will hold a ceremony celebrating the tree on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at Barton Springs Pool.
The celebration will include a "water blessing," music and speakers who will talk about Flo’s history. Residents are still encouraged to share stories about Flo. Several stories and photos can already be viewed online. But more stories, memories and photos about Flo can be submitted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
McNeely said parks staff will also be collaborating with community stakeholders to honor and memorialize Flo.
Save Our Springs leads effort to keep Flo in place
Several residents spoke out last month about Flo’s removal, forcing the city to delay the decision until public input could be given. Only four people showed up to speak about the tree at the Parks and Recreation Board meeting last week.
However, dozens of emails were sent to Parks and Recreation department staff and council members urging the city to keep Flo where she was.
Local environmental group Save Our Springs Alliance led the effort. In the email, SOS said “perhaps a structural engineer would advise some limited improvements to the cradle, but this would be something small, if needed at all, and be cheaper than killing and removing the tree. In other words, this is a question for engineers not arborists.”
Bill Bunch, executive director for SOS, told KUT last week that the group stood by its push to keep Flo where she was with some adjustments to the structure and cable system — a cost estimated to range between $10,000 and $30,000.
Bunch said they didn’t believe the tree would come down at all with those adjustments to the structure, despite arborists saying the opposite.
“But to be 100% certain – and we should be certain because of the traffic there — we want it to be 100% certain,” Bunch said. “And with $10,000 to $20,000 or less of work we can make that happen. And Save Our Springs is willing to bring our donors to the table and pay for that.”
People planning to attend the celebration on Wednesday should plan to park on the south side of the pool and walk around due to limited space in the main lot.