Celebrating the historic elm trees in Bismarck’s Cathedral District

Local News

As most North Dakotans know, trees are not in abundance around the state. So the preservation of trees, especially on Arbor Day, calls for celebration.

The Cathedral District in Bismarck has been a well-known historic area for decades, but the over 120 elm trees that line the neighborhood have been around just as long — and some maybe even longer than that.

“The trees represent the ideals and planning of those long-ago people of Bismarck. They give value, beauty, shade and pleasure and all they ask in return, is for us to care for them and to keep them healthy,” said Amy Guthrie Sakariassen, with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

And for something so peaceful, they used to be under attack quite often. In the ’50s, ’70s and in ’90s the desire of the city to widen Washington Street put these trees in jeopardy.

“We worked closely with the city on plans to be able to come up with a way that we could safely and quickly move traffic through, but also be able to retain the boulevard trees,” said neighborhood advocate, Margie Zalk Enerson.

In the late ’90s, Margie was one of the residents of the Cathedral District who helped fight for the preservation of these trees. When looking at the proposed plans for expanding Washington Street, you can see all the trees along the road would have been removed and disposed of.

“I think it was one of the biggest impacts that our group did was taking a picture and photoshopping out the trees. So with a stroke on the computer, you could see what it would look like versus having the trees cut down and then being very regretful,” said Zalk Enerson.

“That’s my parish church. I don’t live in this neighborhood but I love this neighborhood and I love the fact that all of us worked very very hard with many many many years of controversy we finally found an agreement and today we celebrate the elms,” said former Bismarck City Commissioner Connie Sprynczynatyk.

And for the first time since 1996, the elm trees are wrapped once again in ribbons: Red for healthy trees that have been around for a long time, and green for the ones that have been replaced over the years. This time the ribbons are accompanied by hearts decorated by students from Cathedral and Roosevelt Elementary schools.

Nearly a casualty of an ever-expanding city, the elm trees in the Cathedral District continue to stand tall as a reminder of what happens when a community that cares, comes together.

The trees have since been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. So now they will always be the iconic canopy for the Cathedral District for years to come.

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