A Tacoma resident is trying to save the remainder of trees that were planted after World War I to create a ‘corridor of remembrance’ for those who fought.

Share story

TACOMA — At one time, 500 trees lined the only highway that stretched from the Nisqually River to Lakewood’s Ponders Station. The trees created a corridor of remembrance with each trunk memorializing individuals and military units that served in World War I, The News Tribune reported.

Today, only 66 trees remain. The others became casualties of growth as Interstate 5 was built and the land around it developed. Twelve more trees could be in harm’s way after the state Department of Transportation expands the interstate to alleviate congestion along the Joint Base Lewis-McChord corridor.

Tacoma resident Charlotte “Polly” Medlock is fighting to preserve the trees that were planted when she was a toddler.

“I kind of keep an eye on those trees,” the 91-year-old said of the northern, scarlet, English and red oak trees. “If I see something happening out there that makes me nervous, I have oftentimes called the Department of Transportation people.”

The Tacoma Garden Club created a “Boulevard of Remembrance” in 1928 with the planting of the oak trees. Prominent Tacoma businessmen — such as J.C. Haley, co-founder of Brown & Haley, and the Weyerhaeusers — were some of the first supporters.

The Rotary Club of Tacoma purchased 106 trees that, when planted, stretched a mile, said Medlock, who researched the topic for the Tacoma Historical Society, where she is a board member emeritus.

The first tree was dedicated to Maj. Gen. Henry A. Greene, commander of Camp Lewis at the time and the 91st Division during the war. Mrs. J.P. Weyerhaeuser purchased the tree, Medlock said.

Along with her Tacoma Historical Society affiliation, Medlock is active in a number of military organizations. Her husband, Robert Medlock, 93, served in the Air Force in World War II. The couple belongs to the American Legion and other groups, such as the Military Order of the World Wars.

The Military Order also has lent support for preserving the boulevard.

“We’re real excited about it,” said John McConnel, commander of the military order’s Puget Sound chapter. “We think it’s been too long it’s been ignored.”

Medlock’s connection to the trees dates to 1989. That’s when a Tacoma librarian asked her to raise awareness about the remembrance boulevard. She accepted the challenge, ultimately presenting a petition with “a few thousand” signatures to the Pierce County Council. The council passed a resolution acknowledging the historical significance of the trees, but nothing followed.

Twenty-six years later, Medlock resurrected her cause when she saw Rep. Dick Muri, R-Steilacoom, at a Memorial Day ceremony in Tacoma this spring. She told Muri of the council’s actions in 1989 and urged him to finish what was started.

“Unfortunately, when they planted those trees, they never thought about how much this area would grow,” Muri said of the Tacoma Garden Club.

Muri and Rep. Christine Kilduff, D-University Place, have solicited local and state elected officials as well as veterans organizations to lend support to naming a stretch of the interstate the “Boulevard of Remembrance.” The section spans from the Mounts Road exit in DuPont to the McChord exit in Lakewood.

The state Transportation Commission will review the request at its October meeting. The memorial would renew recognition of the World War I servicemen, and extend recognition to anyone who has fought or died serving in the military, Muri said.

“What a fitting area to do it, through the JBLM corridor,” he said.

If the naming is approved, the Department of Transportation (WSDOT) will put up signs along the freeway recognizing the 88-year-old corridor, said Kevin Dayton, WSDOT Olympic Region director.

Efforts also are under way to find a location off the freeway for a memorial with more information about the history of the trees and the corridor. This would allow people to see the trees without creating a safety hazard by stopping along the busy freeway, Dayton said.

If the 12 oak trees are impacted by the freeway’s expansion, Dayton said, the state would plant oak trees at the memorial. He knows it’s not the same as preserving the existing trees, but the road improvements are desperately needed.

Muri credits Medlock for the corridor’s preservation.

“If you want something done you’ve got to go out and make a little noise,” Medlock said.