By : Jon Szerlag
TO MAKE CHANGE, YOU DON’T ALWAYS HAVE TO SEE IMMEDIATE RESULTS. Sometimes it’s opening peoples’ eyes and minds to a thought, an idea. That is what one local Ferndale resident did when she went for a walk one day in late August near the Wilson Park.
As construction at the site of the former Taft School began (see adjoining article), Shannon O’Brien, a resident of Ferndale for about 25 years and Ferndale Friends Circulation Manager, noticed trees that were marked to be cut down. Already feeling a little disheartened, she remembered taking her son when he was younger to the park, and how he would sit under the trees for shade.
Piece by piece (trees and nature) are disappearing,” O’Brien said. “When my son was in kindergarten, we would go to this park and it was great. I never thought about it at that time.”
While the city landscape has changed, O’Brien said cutting down these old trees which have stood for more than 100 years, and a philosophy of developing every inch of space, is not characteristic of the Ferndale she loves.
O’BRIEN WENT HOME WANTING TO DO SOMETHING to try and save the trees. Then she had an idea: She looked around for something to write on but all she could find was a brown paper bag. She made a quick sign that simply read, “SAVE ME! I am 150+ years old. I cannot be replaced. Please think about my bottom line, not just yours.” Then she marched down to the park and hung it on one of the trees.
Not thinking her brown paper bag sign would have much of an impact, she was surprised to find that within several days signatures started to show up on her sign, which stayed tied to the tree on the south side of the former campus. Before she knew it, there were more than 50 signatures on her sign, and the brown square with her words printed on it stayed until it was one of the last few trees standing.
While the trees were not spared, O’Brien’s spirits were lifted not only by the people who signed her statement, but also stepped up to try to save other trees throughout the city of Ferndale as others began posting similar signs. And her tiny campaign sparked a minor fury around town on social media, and led to articles in Oakland County Times and an interview with Channel 7 WXYZ News.
When she went to where the tree once stood, after work as a caregiver, the tree was now only a stump. O’Brien went and counted the rings. 127 in total.
O’Brien does not know what will happen next, but her love for trees and finding a balance between development and preserving the rich and old natural habitat of the city will continue to be on her mind. She has reach-ed out to the developer and city officials, and if she can find others to help her she may start reaching out more in a grassroots effort.
While development, growth and progression will most likely continue in our city and others, O’Brien is becoming more hopeful that developers and City officials will be more conscious of the area’s natural habitat.
“My son said to me, ‘Do one thing different, and it will make a change,’” O’Brien said. “One small thing can make a difference: ask questions, ask for support or join an organization. I want to bring more consciousness and am thinking of reaching out to different organizations like the Historical Society to see if there is interest (in preserving nature in the city.
O’Brien is not discouraged by the trees at the park being cut down. The community’s input, signatures and surprising kindness has given her hope for Ferndale, and the surrounding area’s natural beauty and heritage.
“One of my friends said she loves what I am doing, and how I am doing it in a peaceful way,” O’Brien said.
“Where there is a will there is a way.”