For those who travel FM 2504 and FM 476 in Rossville this phrase, “Turn right at the ‘t’ by the big oak tree” is a familiar one. “Big Ross” as it has been named is a well-known landmark – so much so that emergency care flights have marked the tree with GPS coordinates.
On Monday, Commissioner Stuart Knowlton, Pct. 2, placed a message on his Facebook page and the Facebook page “What’s Up, Poteet?” administered by the much loved and respected Cleo Vargas, that stated, “Annoucement! I spoke with TxDOT representatives this morning regarding the construction at the intersection of FM 2504 and FM 476 at Rossville. This project is to create turning lanes. As a result, the plan is to remove the huge oak tree in the middle of the intersection. You may contact the local TxDOT office at (830) 569-2584.” Knowlton who had spoken with TxDOT earlier knew his constituents were not going to be happy with this decision.
“The citizens are the ones who instigated this, and it began when someone asked me about the tree,” said Commissioner Knowlton. “I called TxDOT on Monday morning and received a call back while in Commissioners Court. When I finished with court, TxDOT told me they were going to take the tree down and they were going to do it on Tuesday. I told him I do not think that is a good idea and to give me your phone number. I told him I am going to post your phone number on Facebook. So that is exactly what I did.” Knowlton reported that he heard back later in the day from the area engineer in Hondo who said they had been getting calls and that for the time being they had changed their mind and were not going to remove the tree but continue with construction.
The Pleasanton Express’ phone began to ring first thing Monday morning with urgent calls to help save the tree. We posted about it on our Facebook page to help get the word out and it was shared 197 times and had 104 unanimous comments to save the tree. The Pleasanton Express joined the phone call chain to TxDOT locally, in San Antonio and Austin and contacted Rep. Ryan Guillen’s office. We learned from those calls that hundreds of citizens were calling in with demands to save the tree.
Rep. Guillen was told by the TxDOT San Antonio office, “The historical significance of this tree did not come up in our environmental study. But due to the recent inquiries another environmental study will be conducted to evaluate the historical significance of this tree. So, with that being said the removal of this tree will be postponed until this study is completed. If the study finds the tree to be of historical value, then it will be kept intact and not removed. I will be sure to keep you updated on the findings.”
Rep. Guillen said, “It’s encouraging to have witnessed how the folks of the Rossville area quickly came together as a community in common cause to save this historic landmark. I truly support their efforts.”
Shayleigh Uribe has started work to collect and preserve the history of “Big Ross.” She started a “Save Big Ross Oak Tree” Facebook page to collect all the historical information possible on “Big Ross.” Uribe urges people to please join that group and to post information on any “Big Ross’” history you may know. She started the page on Tuesday, and by lunch time had 700 members.
“I have been talking with the director of the Texas Historic Tree Coalition to get this tree listed as an historic tree,” said Uribe. “There is a lot of research I have to put into it, and it is going to take time since I work. I made this group hopefully to get more people to help.”
Even though it was announced yesterday that “Big Ross” was saved for now, Rossville resident Katie Boggs organized a group of “tree lovers and huggers” to come show their support for “Big Ross.” Thirteen supporters showed up Tuesday morning.
“I learned about Big Ross nine years ago when my late husband and I were building our home and we had to call the Sheriffs’ department due to property theft,” said Boggs. “The operator asked if we were near the big oak tree and I had no idea what she was talking about at the time. Over the next eight years, I now use Big Ross as a landmark. It’s just a part of Rossville that looks over all of us. It’s a strong tree that needs to maintain its position in the community.”
In attendance at the event were Irma Sanchez, Bonita Green, Susan Peace, Katie Boggs, Rose Mary Olivares, Mary and Fred Bell, Shayleigh Uribe, Jerry Uribe, Tanya Keeling, Isaac Segura, Ruth Olivares, Donovan Garcia and Commissioner Stuart Knowlton. After the event, Texas Public Radio spoke to Irma Sanchez about “Big Ross.”