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Women want to save magnolia estimated at 100 years old

SNELLVILLE - Dale Sikes has never chained herself to a tree, but the prospect of losing a magnolia she estimates at more than 100 years old may change her mind.

"I've not tied myself to a tree yet, but I'm thinking about it," she said. "I told my friends they had to bring me a sandwich and water."

Developers who intend to put offices and warehouses on more than 12 acres off U.S. Highway 78 have not made their intentions about the magnolia or other old trees on the Lake Carlton and Midway Road property clear.

But since Sikes discovered the old tree in February, she and friend Elizabeth deVarona have been on a crusade to save it.

The old magnolia tree measures about 116 inches around. Rick Hatten, the interim director of field operations for the Georgia Forestry Commission, said it's difficult to determine a tree's age by its circumference, but that he doesn't think the commission has a tool large enough to bore a pencil-sized hole into its trunk to count the rings.

"It's a pretty large tree," he said.

DeVarona said she remembered drinking tea under the tree with the woman who owned the home that has now been sold to Diversified Development. The company refused to comment about what plans it has for the business park project, which was approved by county commissioners in April.

Sikes is a master gardener and president of the Lake Carlton Homeowners Association's community club. DeVarona said she was involved in successful efforts to save a Snellville white oak on U.S. 78 when the road was widened in the 1970s.

"I remember that fondly," she said. "I know that it can be done if you get people behind it."

Dale Higdon, a senior forester with the Georgia Forestry Commission, said the white oak in Snellville is more than 200 years old. He has not seen the magnolia but estimated it is between 100 and 125 years old, based on its nearly 37-inch diameter.

"It's an exceptional tree," he said of the Snellville white oak. "We have a number in this county."

Both Sikes and deVarona said they wished the tree was in their front yards. In addition to the shade it provides, Sikes said the magnolia and other old trees produce oxygen and help reduce erosion in the area.

For deVarona, the tangible benefits of keeping the magnolia are just part of the reason she wants it saved. The woman worries cutting down trees will set a bad example for future generations and fears developers would destroy something so old for a project that won't have the tree's longevity.

"The best thing that could happen is that they wake up and realize it's a venerable tree that's been here longer than any of them and they give it a break," she said. "It's a venerable elder that needs to be respected. We need to be more environmentally conscious. I think we've got a lot to lose if we lose these big trees."