Special Report: Care for the Corner

AUBURN, AL (WSFA) - It's the crossroads of everything Auburn -- Toomer's Corner.

"It's what binds the University and the community together," said Auburn Sophomore Shauni Armstead.

For years, Toomer's Corners has been a place students, alumni and fans of all ages met for the ultimate celebration of school spirit and pride, but in late fall, one vicious act changed everything.

"I poisoned the trees.  I put SPIKE 80DF in them," said a caller to the Paul Finebaum show who police later identified as Harvey Updyke.

Since then, the Toomer's Task Force led by Horticulture Professor Gary Keever has done everything they can to remove that poison.

"I think that the odds aren't good that we're going to be able to save them, but we're not going to give up," said Keever.

The stress on the trees is unmistakable. What should be full, flush, and green looks shriveled, yellowed, and dying, but if you look closely, Keever says, all hope is not lost.

"We are seeing a lot of new foliage, and this is what gives us optimism that there's a chance the trees could survive," he added.

Luke Marzen, Associate Professor of Geology and Geography at Auburn said, "We are putting new technology in use in a way that could actually help preserve those trees."

Marzen worked with a team from the US Geological Survey Alabama Water Science Center to do a 3D scan of the trees. Using a light detection laser scanner, the result was an exact replica of the famous oaks.

ON THE WEB: Task Force Update on Trees' Health

Marzen said, "You can take a picture of a tree, and you just have a two dimensional picture of a tree, right?  But with this light scan, you get three dimensions, so we can make a 3D model of this tree."

And as Horticulturists and other experts do everything they can to save the trees, Auburn's library is also working to save and preserve the memory of what happened there.

"Much like any other momentous moment in history, this is one for Auburn and one that we have found that people come back for," said Greg Schmidt.  Schmidt is over Special Collections and Preservations in the Library, where there is now a memorabilia exhibit of items left in the aftermath of the poisoning.

"If you look closely at some of the material, what you see is a lot of heartfelt creations that people have made," Schmidt pointed out.

Meanwhile, as time ticks closer to football season, what happened several months ago is once again top of mind.

Auburn Student Shauni Armstead said, "You definitely still see students looking at the tree and wondering what is going to happen next."

A University committee will soon decide fans can roll the trees this fall.

"More than likely, the trees will be rolled. In the past, you may have noticed that a crew would come out here Sunday afternoon.  They would use high pressure hoses and blow the toilet paper off. The University is looking at alternatives to that, possibly hand removal," said Keever.

If not, the options include rolling a different location on campus.  Down the road, people have suggested that the University look at the possibility of replacing the trees with inanimate replicas or live trees from the Toomer's Seedlings.

But Keever's not giving up on these trees just yet.

"Nothing would make us happier than for these trees to survive," he said.  Hoping to give the trees and the beloved tradition they represent a fighting chance.

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