So I'm driving along highway 187 returning to Eureka Springs after a failed attempt to visit Dinosaur World. There's not a building or a gas station or superette for miles in either direction, and then I see this tree on the side of the road. It looked at first like branches overgrown with crown galls or massively scarred by multible lightning strikes, but as one approaches one notices....
This tree is filled with shoes, hundreds and hundreds of pairs of shoes, mostly old sneakers.
The nearest manmade object, other than the shoes, is a sign for a Baptist youth camp at Beaver Lake, so I called the First Baptist Church at Eureka Springs and spoke with Jimmy Martin, who told me this story: Many many years ago, a woman threw her husband out of the house. In a fit of anger and frustration, he threw his shoe and it hung in the tree and he just left it there. As time went on, more and more shoes appeared in the tree; and today, well see for yourself.
Jimmy adds that it's a popular thing for local kids to take an old pair of sneakers, draw their initials on them, tie the laces together and then snare them on a high branch for posterity. He also mentions that people who have fallen on hard times have been seen in the shade of the shoe tree trying on sneakers that have fallen like ripe fruit from the branches (and I use the term "ripe" advisedly).
Some were calling it "the end of an era" as cars lined up Sunday to view the downed "shoe tree" on Hwy. 187 going toward Beaver Dam.
The 70 to 80-year-old white oak tree was claimed by last Saturday's rainstorm with heavy winds.
The storm, which raged most of the day, also postponed Eureka Spring's May Fine Arts parade until Sunday.
The Arkansas Highway Department is responsible for that stretch of highway, and as of early Monday morning, began to assess the situation. Kit Core, area maintenance supervisor, said the tree is on the state highway's right-of-way. "We'll remove the shoes from the tree, put them in a dump truck, and take them to the trash compactor," he said. The tree will be cut and disposed of as well.
Although the state does not have the facilities to hold or ship the shoes, if someone wants them before they go to the dump, they are more than welcome to them, he added, and can come to the yard and pick them up. The highway yard is located in Berryville, just west of Berryville Ford, and their number is (870) 423-2719.
No one knows for sure when the shoe tree got started, but long-time locals say it's been around at least 20, and some say even 30, years. The tree, which has been featured on television news, stood with as many as 500 shoes hanging from its limbs.
Shoes, sneakers, boots and sandals of every size, description and condition, from old and torn to brand new, have festooned the tree for years. No one is sure, either, why the tree got started, although some local legends abound.
At least one local, Terra Lewis, has taken shoes off the tree to send them to Honduras and other disaster-stricken countries. She also felt concern for the health of the tree. Some people argued with her about removing the shoes, however, claiming the tree was an area attraction and should be left alone.
Others besides Lewis saw it as an environmental issue, as the tree showed definite signs of being harmed by the shoes. Mike Weiland, of Mike's Tree Service, told Carroll County News writer Janie Pritchett-Clark last year that the weight of the shoes was probably a factor in depriving the tree of nutrition as well as causing some limb breakage.
The trunk appeared to have come cleanly out of its hole. One resident surmised that the heavy rains may have been a factor in adding weight to the shoes, and together with the strong winds, was too much for the old oak.
What you see alongside the road in this picture is the selection process for a new shoe tree to replace the one that was blown down in a storm the previous year. What apparently has happened is that people have been bringing their shoes to the site of the old shoe tree, and finding none, fling them into an alternate tree.
So far there are about a half dozen trees with shoes hanging in them. There are two oaks which seem to have found favor with the electorate and have garnered most of the votes. Eventually one of these trees will gain a margin large enough and will become without formal declaration THE shoe tree.
In the neighborhood: Natural Bridge and Pedestal Rock | Quigley's Castle