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By Cali Owings, Published September 14 2013

Little history is known about Moorhead's Crooked Tree

MOORHEAD – The slumped willow with sprawling branches on the eastern corner of Concordia College’s campus may be the busiest tree in town.

It’s a hotspot for picnics, a backdrop for family and wedding photos and, of course, a climber’s paradise.

Though it’s been given many unofficial names – the Crazy Tree, the Crooked Tree, the Climbing Tree – little is known of the beloved willow’s history.

Jerry Raguse, a horticulturalist for Concordia, said during his 25 years at the school he’s noticed a lot of activity around the tree.

He estimates the tree is 75 to 80 years old and in good health.

His estimate appears to be accurate. A lone tree appears on the corner of 11th Street and 12th Avenue South in U.S. Department of Agriculture aerial photos of Moorhead dating back to 1939, which makes the tree at least 74 years old.

It’s hard to tell when or how the willow developed its odd shape.

“It probably got somehow damaged in a windstorm or something at one point in its life and leaned over,” Raguse said.

Once the branches are on the ground, it’s common for willows to grow roots from the pieces. He said it’s possible the branches that touch the ground are rooted and provide support for the tree.

Plans to create a retention pond and dike in the field adjacent to the tree around 2003 called for its removal, Raguse said.

“There was a period of time when the tree was thought of as disposable,” he said.

But the community spoke up in order to keep it and they built the dike around it, he said.

Neighbors who have long admired the tree know little about it – only that it’s very popular.

“It’s a very, very busy tree,” said Lynne Stig, who has lived across the street from the tree for 16 years.

She said it’s not uncommon for several cars to park on the street while its occupants head to the tree for pictures or climbing.

“Some people who grew up around the tree bring their families back to climb on it,” Stig said.

Even late at night when she’s walking her dog, Stig said she’ll hear voices calling down from the tree.

Gabe Haney said it’s the most photographed tree in Moorhead.

Haney and his brother Greg are the Moorhead-based duo behind Haney’s Photography. He said he’s taken pictures at the tree hundreds of times.

But while it’s a neat looking tree, it’s not always an ideal place for photos. He said while people often request it, it’s tricky to get a good photo in certain conditions.

Greg Scherling, of Fargo’s Scherling Photography, agreed. He said he’s shot there a few times over the years for senior photos and the like, but it’s not a great portrait spot.

“When you photograph there you don’t really show the whole tree,” he said.

It’s a natural jungle gym for Jill Walker’s sons Jayce, 8, and James, 5, and their friends who often head across the street to climb.

The neighboring tree was a huge selling point when the family bought the home in 2003, Walker said.

She told the previous owners she was excited to be able to look at the tree every day.

“They said, ‘The people who come to the tree are the ones you’re going to watch.’ ”

And sure enough, there’s activity around the tree almost every day, she said. From family reunions, prom pictures and graduations – the Crazy Tree is home to it all.

Though she’s lived across the street for 10 years, Walker said she didn’t even know what kind of tree it was for sure. She said it’d be useful to have a plaque or something with information about the tree for its many admirers.

Though it’s a huge draw for neighbors and passers-by, it’s also a big part of Concordia’s campus life.

“I’ve always called it the crazy tree on the corner by the soccer fields,” said Alex McLean, a junior who now rents an apartment on 11th Street near the tree.

While it may not have an official name or a plaque, many agree it is a campus landmark.

“It’s definitely one of those things you immediately notice when you come to Concordia,” McLean said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599