AU wants input on Toomer's tradition

AUBURN, AL (WSFA) - It's been a year since the iconic oak trees at Toomer's Corner were poisoned with a fatal dose of the herbicide Spike 80DF. In that time, the University has allowed Auburn fans to continue with the tradition of rolling the trees with toilet paper, only to pick the paper out of the branches by hand.

Now, they're asking for input on what should be done in the future as the trees' health declines. Auburn University officials say that while they don't know what will happen to the trees themselves, they want to put together a long term plan "as we try to ensure that the beloved tradition of rolling Toomer's Corner is preserved."

A committee was recently formed to determine the future of the tradition. The most popular suggestions are now available for review and the public's input.

Ideas can be submitted to

Option 1: Replant small oak trees in the same location as the current trees, which eventually will grow large enough for future generations to roll (see below for more information about timing).

Option 2: Replant one or two very large oak trees, which could be rolled within a few years of the roots taking hold (see below for more information about timing and requirements).

Option 3: Move the rolling tradition to the intersection of Toomer's Corner (it's original location) by building a professionally-designed, permanent structure conducive to rolling, which would become part of the village atmosphere downtown (see below for requirements).

Option 4: Design an artificial tree/sculpture to replace the current oaks as a permanent option.

Option 5: Combine any of the above options (see below).

Additional suggestions are welcomed.

Considerations/supplemental information to assist you with feedback:

Size of tree: A large tree as referenced here would range from roughly 10 to 25 inches in diameter but could be larger; trees this size could have root balls 10 or more feet in diameter. A "small" tree would be roughly 3 to 5 inches in diameter and could have root ball up to 40 inches.

Requirements for new trees: A large tree would typically require three to five years to establish a strong root base. A guy-wire system would be required to hold a large tree in place, which would delay rolling trees for three to five years due to safety issues.

Impact of Spike 80DF: It takes five to seven years for Spike 80DF (the herbicide used in the attempt to kill the trees) to degrade. To plant large trees sooner would require completely removing all pavers, the brick gateway and soil from the corner. A small tree would take several years to grow roots long enough to reach the areas of soil still containing herbicide, requiring less excavation and allowing time for the herbicide in the soil to degrade.

"Combination of any of the above": You can suggest a combination of any of the options given - for example, planting smaller seedlings to replace the oaks if they die while also building an 'iconic' structure at the intersection, or planting a large oak tree and building a permanent structure, etc.

Cleaning method: The university will not be able to invest in cleaning the trees (or any new trees) by hand indefinitely, due to the extensive cost in doing so; the current hand-cleaning method is in place only temporarily in an effort to save the trees, as it is more gentle than hosing.

Structure requirements: Any permanent structure put in place at the corner would be required to complement/enhance the downtown "village" atmosphere and historic corner, while being safe and conducive to rolling; designs would be submitted by professionals based on these requirements.   Timing: Work on a more permanent structure can begin immediately, as we await the fate of the trees. Landscaping for the trees area itself would occur at a later date.

Type of tree: The current Toomer's trees are "live oaks," which are native to sandy soils in the coastal plains from Virginia to the Florida Keys and west to east-central Texas. Live oak is borderline cold-hardy in the Auburn area and typically much shorter-lived than live oaks growing in their native area. Marginal cold-hardiness coupled with additional stresses from traffic, pollution and concrete surroundings are not conducive to the survival of live oaks. Originally, when the oaks first took root, most of these conditions did not exist and they were able to survive. Therefore the committee, informed by the Toomer's Trees Task Force,* determined that if the trees die, a hardy, native oak species should replace the live oaks.

Funding: The purpose of your feedback is to hear input from the Auburn Family; costs and funding options will be determined once the best solution is determined.

Historical background: No one is certain the exact year Toomer's Corner began to be "rolled," but we do know it began with the printing off of "ticker tape" containing all the football scores at Toomer's Drugs. When a winning Auburn score came off on the tape, the tape would then be thrown around the corner. Eventually, the ticker tape changed to toilet paper, and it was the full corner (the intersection of Magnolia and College) that was rolled. The earliest the live oaks themselves were rolled may have been in the 1970s (these photographs featured on The War Eagle Reader are from 1972) - and shows the trees in the background, unrolled, and the intersection festooned with toilet paper. Eventually, the wires at the intersection were replaced with poles, and the rolling celebration migrated to the trees.

The Committee to Determine the Future of Rolling Toomer's Corner was appointed by the president and is comprised of members of the campus and city communities, including alumni, city officials, students, horticulturists, faculty and engineers. The Toomer's Trees Task Force is the group of faculty experts from horticulture, agronomy, forestry, and chemistry (among others) that has been working tirelessly to save our trees.