A 300-year-old bur oak tree in South Point Park near Nicholasville Road that the city deemed dangerous was cut down on Thursday and Friday.
Workers and neighbors found three young raccoons living in the 65-foot tree's giant trunk.
The city deemed the tree hazardous because its trunk was hollow and rotting in the center, making it possibly unstable, and it was within feet of a playground and nearby homes.
A lightning strike, which might have happened 200 years ago, opened the bark and let fungi and bugs into the tree's center, said arborist David Leonard, who monitored the tree for the city.
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"The bur oaks live so long, and they're the dominant thing in the landscape, so they tend to get hit quite often," Leonard said.
When a limb fell onto a nearby homeowner's yard, he called the city and asked that the tree be analyzed.
"The homeowner was really wanting the tree gone," Leonard said. "It was a hazardous tree as it was, and it needed to be either reduced or removed."
Bob Justice, who lives next to the park, said a similar tree about 30 feet away fell and broke his fence, so he said he wanted to be rid of the old oak before anything else happened.
"It's only by the grace of God that it didn't fall down when the playground was full of kids," Justice said.
The city leans on the side of caution when there are plenty of valuable things a tree can land on, said Tim Queary, the city's urban forester. In this case, there was the playground, multiple houses and power lines.
Leonard said that because the tree was pruned on one side, it was weighted toward the playground.
"That's a very difficult decision to make, to remove a tree of that age," Queary said. "If the trunk were solid and it was sound, then we probably would have just pruned the tree."
Bur oaks can live as long as 500 years. It's not clear how many are left in the Bluegrass, the only part of Kentucky where they grow, but it is clear that the number is decreasing, Queary said.
In Bluegrass Land and Life, biologist Mary Wharton wrote that there were 178 bur oaks visible from Fayette County public roads in 1978. Thomas Kimmerer, chief scientist at Venerable Trees Inc., said that there are now just 43. Most of the trees have disappeared because of development, Kimmerer said.
The University of Kentucky Arboretum and McConnell Springs will display some pieces of the tree. The rest of it was either put through a wood chipper or given to neighbors for firewood.