‘Lucky Tree’ runs out of luck in weekend storms

The “Lucky Tree” along K-96 took a hit from weekend storms, with large limbs felled by winds. (June 19, 2016)
The “Lucky Tree” along K-96 took a hit from weekend storms, with large limbs felled by winds. (June 19, 2016) The Wichita Eagle

It was not one of the strongest storms to hit this area of Kansas in recent years.

But it was enough.

A thunderstorm moving out of the northwest with winds sometimes topping 60 mph felled several limbs off the “Lucky Tree” on K-96 sometime Friday night into Saturday morning.

The huge limbs lay in a heap at the foot of the 60- to 70-foot tree, split and mangled.

The tree is one of the best-known landmarks on K-96 between the Bentley and Maize Road exits.

Fans of the Lucky Tree honk and wave at the century-old tree – and make a wish.

The elderly cottonwood has its own Facebook page, “We Always Honk at the Lucky Tree Outside of Wichita,” with nearly 4,500 followers.

“I honk every time I go by and make a wish,” said Marci Penner, director of the Kansas Sampler Foundation near Inman.

On Sunday, several of the tree’s followers noted the significant loss of limbs.

Its followers have known for some time the aging tree might have a disease or illness.

One fan on the tree’s Facebook page jokingly suggested the tree might need Gorilla glue or duct tape to help shore up the surviving limbs.

The fans have affectionately nicknamed a smaller tree to the north of the tree “Sprout.”

For decades, high school teams passing by in buses have honked and waved.

People have tied yellow ribbons around its massive trunk to commemorate lost or missing loved ones.

Nearly 15 years ago – shortly after 9/11 – it proudly wore the American flag.

And in the 1990s, when officials threatened to re-route K-96 and cut down the tree, adoring fans urged the Kansas Department of Transportation to save it.

Debbie Royse, one of the women who helped start the Facebook page, said Sunday she is hoping to raise interest through KDOT and perhaps local arborists to see whether the tree could be inspected and have maintenance to prevent it from dying.

“It might be dying; it is old,” Royse said. “I remember my grandmother talking about when she and my grandpa would drive by it many, many moons ago. But there is a lot of interest and memories tied to that tree. We have to find out who to get in touch with about it and do it the right way. It would be sad to see that tree go.”

Officials from KDOT were not readily available for comment on Sunday.

Mick McGuire, meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said Sedgwick County was hit with multiple rounds of thunderstorms Friday and Saturday, with 50 to 60 mph winds, downing some power lines near Clearwater and ripping tree limbs down in the Maize area.

“We had multiple sporadic wind gusts, with the strongest measured at Central and Zoo at 61 mph,” he said.

In the meantime, Lucky Tree fans remain hopeful.

“As long as the trunk is there, I’ll be making a wish,” Penner said.

Beccy Tanner: 316-268-6336, @beccytanner

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