Mardy Sears says she was “horrified” to see and hear what was going on behind her condominium complex.
“I sit on my couch drinking coffee and listening to the chain saws as they continue to cut” at the Canal Shores Golf Course, Sears says, in a “Save the Trees” petition she started online last week.
Cutting down about 80 trees (out of some 900 on the course) is part of a year-long, $6 million total makeover of the 104-year-old course. But unlike most golf courses, Canal Shores is urban, an 82-acre oasis of recreation and green space, partly in Evanston, partly in Wilmette.
But that oasis is drying up. The greens often turn brown due to too much shade, or become swampy, thanks to an out-of-date drainage system.
Earlier this year, Canal Shores president Matt Rooney told a 7th Ward meeting that the course is basically in an “end of life” state as golf courses go, with “14 of 18 greens deemed unsustainable.”
Hence, the privately funded renovation project, which also includes a youth golf training program, which requires more space, and hence fewer trees. A separate program will also work to increase the number of “Evans Scholars,” students who caddy as kids and then have a shot at caddy-specific college financial aid. The goal is to bring in more students of color.
Canal Shores closed to golfers this past Monday, to allow the work to continue, grading new fairways, installing modern drainage, and, yes, cutting down some trees.
But while the nearly 400 who signed Mardy Sears’ petition likely agree with her that taking down trees and the shade they provide is, in her words, “abhorrent,” Canal Shores officials say they are committed to balancing proper ecological management with keeping the course viable for decades to come.
“We are not just going yeah, we want to get rid of the trees,” says Chris Charnas, a member of the Canal Shores board, and vice-president for the course reconstruction project.
“We try as hard as we can to be ecologically sensitive,” says Charnas.
Canal Shores has a lengthy eco-plan, with the 900 trees voluntarily categorized a few years ago, based on their condition. Trees were rated on a 1-5 scale, with 1 the best and 5 barely hanging on.
Charnas notes that Canal Shores has its own on-site nursery, and the course will plant a new tree for each one taken down. Not in the same place, of course, but still trying to keep the area as green as possible while making the golf course playable.
“There will be plenty of canopy left,” he says.
The Canal Shores eco-plan pays particular attention to saving oak trees, which, the plan states, “are valuable, scarce, and … diminishing,” and “need to be protected and nurtured for future generations.”
“We’re not just paying lip service [to the environment],” Charnas says, “but also putting money and resources towards [protecting] it.”
He notes that all tree removal was approved by the City of Evanston, the Wilmette Park District, and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, which actually owns the golf course property.
Besides the 900 trees rated for condition, there is also some “unrated” vegetation that is being removed, particularly buckthorn.
Buckthorn is an invasive species, which looks like either a very tall shrub or a rather short tree, and spreads like crazy, with a root system that absorbs water best meant for other trees or grasses.
Taking out buckthorn at Canal Shores is making it possible to see the magnificent B’hai Temple.
“The fact that you couldn’t see the Temple from our golf course was always astonishing,” says Charnas.
When Canal Shores reopens around a year from now, golfers will finally get a very good view.
Petition organizer Sears is not necessarily against weeding out weeds … or invasive shrubs/trees.
But she is especially concerned about four cottonwood trees near her condo, which are now down to two (which will remain).
“Shady and gorgeous,” is how she describes the cottonwoods, helping to keep out both heat and noise.
Unlike invasive buckthorn, Sears says cottonwood trees were included in the 900-tree inventory, and the ones near her were not ranked low enough to justify chopping them down.
“In this day and age” of climate change, Sears says “it’s really ignorant” to cut down trees.
But Charnas says some trees do need to come down if you want to have a golf course long-term.
One of the cottonwoods near Sears’ condo, he pointed out, turned out to be hollow.
But Sears says Canal Shores’ arguments are hollow.
“The golf course,” her petition states, “used to be a good neighbor but now they are not.”
Canal Shores leaders say the course is a good neighbor, which is why it calls itself “the gem in your backyard.”
“We’ve had to take down some trees that people love, we understand that,” Charnas says.
“But we’re hoping,” he says, “to put up new trees that people will love” as well.