‘Lucky Tree’ along K-96 won’t become pile of toothpicks just yet

The “Lucky Tree” along K-96 near Halstead Road lost some limbs in recent storms. (June 19, 2016)
The “Lucky Tree” along K-96 near Halstead Road lost some limbs in recent storms. (June 19, 2016) The Wichita Eagle

There was some good news this week for the “Lucky Tree.”

The well-known cottonwood on K-96, midway between Maize and Halstead Road, is still in good health. That’s according to an arborist who examined it after the tree – which has nearly 5,000 followers on Facebook – was damaged by a recent storm.

Chance Martinez with Integrity Tree Service in Wichita examined the tree and looked for clues for what may have caused some of its limbs to fall during last weekend’s storms.

He determined the tree was actually much older than many of its fans thought. He estimates it is between 120 and 150 years old, judging from the furrows of the tree bark.

If the tree is that old, it would have been a sapling when the state was barely a decade old, Sedgwick County was scrambling to become a county and Wichita was a cowtown.

The limbs that recently fell were rotted, Martinez said, but the “tree is still in good health. It had a lightning strike hit years ago, and it looks like that’s where it rotted out.”

He suggests trimming the tree of its dead wood in order for it to remain healthy.

Through the years, the tree has developed its own cult following. It is known by many names – the Lucky Tree, the Good Luck Tree, the Wishing Tree, the Honk Tree, the Kissing Tree and the Memory Tree.

It has its own Facebook page – “We always honk at the lucky tree outside of Wichita!” – with more than 4,800 followers from around the world. Three hundred more were added within 48 hours after news quickly spread about fallen limbs.

Benny Tarverdi, district engineer for the Kansas Department of Transportation, said he would be willing to grant a permit for a trained arborist to do work on the tree. He said KDOT would provide traffic control while the work was being done.

“We would welcome that, because the tree is obviously magical for a lot of people,” Tarverdi said. “There is all kinds of stuff that goes on around that tree.”

People honk and wave as they pass the tree. Athletic teams on buses honk at it for good luck.

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

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

On Tuesday, Susie Arnold of Hutchinson – who helped begin the tree’s Facebook page – was considering establishing a GoFundMe campaign or something similar to help pay for having an arborist prune the tree.

“Our group members are very concerned about the tree and want to save her,” Arnold said. “They also talk about Little Sprout nearby and are concerned that Little Sprout and Her Majesty are both safe.”

The fans have affectionately nicknamed a smaller nearby tree “Sprout.”

Two decades ago, when K-96 was being converted from two lanes to four, the road was constructed in such a way as to save the tree, Tarverdi said.

“We have always loved that tree,” Arnold said.

Beccy Tanner: 316-268-6336, @beccytanner