UI arborist a man of the woods

BY TYLER LYON | JULY 21, 2009 7:15 AM

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The early morning sun shone over the old Art Museum through the leaves of the sugar maples fortunate enough to survive the 2008 flood. However, the tree taken down by UI arborist Andy Dahl Monday wasn’t so lucky.

Sawdust flew through the air as he took its branches off with a chain saw one by one while standing in a cherry picker. Fellow arborist Mike Rhinehart threw each limb into the wood chipper.

Dahl, 38, said his affection for arboriculture rubs off on his family. So much so, his children’s early vocabulary reflected his work.

“My first daughter’s first word was ‘tree,’ ” he said. “So I know she’s mine.”

Dahl, who has worked as an arborist for the university for 10 years, said he enjoys his job because he works with trees all day, whether it’s planting them or trimming them.

“You get to do it all,” he said, “You get to have fun planting new species that usually don’t grow here.”

He and the other arborists often recommend changes in the type of trees on campus, he said. And that’s not always fun — it means cutting down those that are dead.

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“It’s not taken lightly,” he said, “Some of these trees are like old friends. To see them go, it’s a sad thing, but people’s safety is the most important.”

However, Dahl said, last year’s flood forced him and the other arborists to cut down more of the university’s trees. UI Facilities Management grounds supervisor Shawn Fitzpatrick said the university has 7,000 trees on the Iowa City campus.

“We’ve taken down about 120 trees that we normally wouldn’t have” because of the flood, Dahl said.

The number could grow; the university will have to wait to see if any more need to be removed or if new ones can be planted — a decision that will be influenced by the new Hancher complex location.

“We’ll replant once it’s all finished, but that may be a few more years down the road,” Dahl said.

Dahl used to run his own landscaping business but switched to arboriculture so he could have more time with his family.

“It’s just hard finding help, insurance cost, and customers own your soul from 6 a.m. to 10 at night, seven days a week,” he said. “With a family it’s just not possible.”

Rhinehart said he also worked in landscaping, but he took his job with the university because he was tired of working in sales and wanted to do more “hands-on actual maintenance.”

Along with the occasional side landscaping gig, Dahl manages to design and maintain a unique look for his own lawn.

“I’m the crazy guy on the corner with all the plants in the yard,” he said

And while he said arborists are meant to help maintain public safety on campus, he hopes his work will be recognized and appreciated 50 or 100 years down the road.

“Hopefully, someone will go, ‘Wow — someone knew what they were doing back then,’ ” Dahl said.

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