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Publish Date: 3/5/2005

State stymies stump
Carved tree not compliant with sign code

DRAKE — A 12-foot tree stump with the words “PEACE TREE” carved into it must come down because it does not meet the state Department of Transportation’s sign standards.

The tree sits just enough outside of Paul Sterling’s property near Drake to be in U.S. Highway 34’s right of way, which typically extends about 40 feet from the center line of a highway.

Sterling said he carved the tree to show his support for U.S. troops in Iraq.

“I know people are risking their lives for freedom in Iraq and the best way to support our troops is to get them home safely,” he said.

Mindy Crane, a CDOT spokeswoman, said the tree, although it isn’t selling any product, is still clearly an advertisement.

“It doesn’t need to be selling anything,” she said. “It’s just that it’s a message.”

Crane said state law defines an advertising device as any outdoor sign, display, device, figure, painting, drawing, message, placard, poster or billboard. Under this definition, even initials carved into a tree can be considered advertising, she said.

“It would just be a matter of that coming to our attention,” Crane said.

For a sign to pass muster with CDOT, it must be approved and meet certain standards, Crane said, among them, having lighting and breakaway capabilities in case a car hits them.

“All of our roadside signage must conform to our standards,” Crane said. “Obviously, this tree would not fall into that category.”

“There’s a proper process to do it, which he didn’t follow,” said Don Miller, a maintenance superintendent for CDOT and the man who informed Sterling the tree would be removed. “It’s too bad it had to come to this, but it has to be taken down.”

Ironically, Sterling said he did try to have the tree taken down about two years ago. He feared the dead ponderosa pine would damage his property if it fell, so he contacted CDOT to have it removed.

“They came and looked at it and said it wasn’t dead enough,” Sterling said. “I don’t know what ‘dead enough’ means, but they wouldn’t take it down.”

Last August, Sterling had the tree cut to its current 12-foot height by a local tree cutter.

Crane admits that CDOT made a mistake in not removing the tree when the agency was first notified, but she said the department does follow up on calls from the public regarding potentially hazardous trees.

Sterling has been perching atop the tree trunk since Thursday. He said he plans to remain there until Monday, drawing as much attention to the tree and its message as he can.

“Hopefully, the governor will grant us a stay of execution,” he said. “I understand that CDOT is following a set of rules, but there are exceptions to every rule. I’m hoping someone will find that exception.”

But for now, the peace tree’s fate is sealed.

Mark Salley, a spokesman for Gov. Bill Owens, said the governor will rely on the expertise of CDOT in regard to the tree.

And Crane said it will come down sometime next week.

But just as dying didn’t end the tree’s time on Colo. 34, being cut down might not silence its statement.

Sterling said he hopes someone will take the tree and display it somewhere it can continue to plug for peace.

Christina Simms can be reached at 303-776-2244, or by e-mail at

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