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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – It stood in what is now White Rock Lake Park before the Texas Revolution. At one time it was the biggest Black Willow tree in Texas. But now it is a pile of debris and wood chips, cut down by accident by a city of Dallas contractor grinding stumps.

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“It was still alive; willows have a tendency to try and live,” Ted Barker told CBS 11 News. He viewed the cut down tree for the first time Wednesday afternoon. He had monitored its progress as late as last week.

The tree was well past its prime and an October storm blew out its canopy leaving a 6-to-8 foot trunk, according to the Dallas Parks Department. But it had some green shoots and was home to critters, including the Great Horned Owl.

Barker knew the city was concerned about the aging tree. “The city Parks Department had talked about putting a fence around the old tree when it still had its 47-foot height in order to create a buffer zone.”

The city said a contractor removed the tree trunk last week without authorization while removing dead stumps. Assistant Parks Director for Maintenance Oscar Carmona spoke with CBS 11 News and said the contractor cut down the tree without authorization. “So while they were out here they saw this tree — or I should say this trunk — that is similar to other trunks that they have taken down for us. And just made the assumption this was part of the work order even though it wasn’t and went ahead and grinded it down.”

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But some residents doubt the story, saying they had bucked the city when the tree was first marked for removal months ago. Brian Spencer is one of them. “It was a known landmark,” he said adding, “My understanding is they (contractors) were unsupervised our here. And to be near such a valuable treasure and do such a thing is quite shocking.”

Spencer said the loss is emotional as well as historic. “A willow isn’t particularly considered a valuable tree but this particular Black Willow was an exception because of its age — 170 years.”

“Pretty sad,” echoed White Rock Lake resident Brenda Armstrong. “We’ve just…you can’t replace something like that.”

Spencer, Barker and others noted the chipped tree had a blue “X” marked on it. But Carmona said the mark was old and meant nothing. He claimed the stumps designated for the grinder were put on a map and also marked with orange paint, not a blue “X.” He said both the city and the contractor are remorseful about what happened. “And they remove thousands of tree stumps throughout the city and we’ve never had an incident like this.”

With the White Rock Park tree gone, the honor of being the biggest Black Willow in Texas now goes to a tree in Fort Worth’s Wildwood Park. 67-feet tall with a trunk circumference of 227-inches and an 88-foot crown, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

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