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400-plus year old tree to get big makeover

Updated: Friday, June 20, 2014 |
400-plus year old tree to get big makeover story image
KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - A 400-year-old tree in Kalamazoo County is getting a big makeover.

The huge tree in Portage died last year, but one local developer just couldn't let it go.

So now, he's working to turn its stump into something really special.

Matt Milks says he worked tirelessly to keep the old tree alive for the past 17 years.

Now, he hopes the tree's spirit will live on, thanks to a dream and a chainsaw.

Professional wood carver Jerry Ward isn't destroying the tree, but rather transforming it.

"I want something that's very ferocious looking," he said.

Although you can't see it quite yet, Ward says he's got plans for the tree.

"This is going to be a bear, as powerful looking a bear as I can present with that stump to do justice to the tree," he said.

The 400-year-old tree would have been chopped down years ago, and gone forever if it weren't for the determination of local developer Matt Milks.

"We came across this tree and I said, 'this tree is not gonna come down,'" Milks said.

Milks is the Vice President of construction for Meijer C. Weiner, and says when they started developing the complex for Gander Mountain, he took on the tree as a passion project.

"We tried to nurture the tree through hot summers, cold winters, things like that, and it just wasn't making it," Milks said. "I thought, 'well, we would like to keep it alive or keep some part of it alive versus just cutting it down, slabbing it out and maybe making a table out of it,' I thought, let's try to get a hold of a carver."

Ward still has several days of work to do on the old tree, but once he's done, the old bear will stand guard over Portage for generations to come.

"The spirit of the tree itself is there," Milks said.

Everyone is welcome to come check out the carving in action over the next few days.

Ward expects to be done carving the bear by next Wednesday.
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