Community

Iowa's beloved 'Hula-Hoop Tree' cut down by landowner

Safety concerns, visitors during the coronavirus, cited as reasons for removing the tree

Plastic hoops hang Sept. 9, 2019, from a tree along E23 County Home Road west of Amber in Jones County. (Jim Slosiarek/T
Plastic hoops hang Sept. 9, 2019, from a tree along E23 County Home Road west of Amber in Jones County. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

The Hula-Hoop Tree, one of Eastern Iowa’s most whimsical tourist attractions, was taken down this week out of safety concerns.

The tree near Amber, east of Anamosa, was removed by the landowner, Jon Zirkelbach, a Jones County supervisor. Last September, the board discussed liability and safety concerns about the tree, but did not vote to cut it down.

The attraction, dubbed “Her Majesty” by fans, has its own social media following. The Amber Iowa Hula-Hoop Tree Facebook page posted Friday that the tree now would “live in memories, photographs and videos” of visitors.

“Like the COVID-19 situation we’ve all been enduring, decisions (and) actions are implemented for the safety of the public. We will miss her VERY MUCH, but we are relieved that She’s been taken down before any tragedy befell a visitor,” the page said.

Zirkelbach could not be reached for comment.

Concerns about the dangers the Hula-Hoop Tree posed to visitors began in earnest in September 2019, when Jones County Supervisors met with the county attorney about the county’s liability if the tree or branches fell on someone or damage cars parked nearby.

Jones County Supervisor Wayne Manternach said the board did not ask anyone to cut down the tree.

Jones County Engineer Derek Snead last year said that the tree, although in the public right of way, did not pose a safety risk for drivers. The speed limit along E23 County Home Road north of Anamosa where the tree was located was decreased from 55 to 35 mph by the supervisors.

“We dropped the speed limit so people would be more safe as far as traffic flow is concerned,” Manternach said. “As far as I was concerned, it was OK to stay there, but if the landowner wished to have it down it was his decision.”

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Plastic hoops first began appearing on the tree in 2015. Since then, the scraggly, leafless tree was decorated with hundreds of the hoops. It had for years brought onlookers to the small community of Amber, home to about 35 houses.

Hundreds of fans of the tree commented on the Facebook post Friday, telling their stories of visiting the tree and sharing pictures.

“This is very sad,” wrote Lori Westmark. “This tree has had a magical symbol to many. My daughter and I were (going) to come yesterday. ... Now we won’t ever have that chance. ... It offered a freedom, a sort of peace, a sign of joy and hope. ...”

“This is so heartbreaking,” Tracy Edminster wrote. “We loved the magical, whimsical, beautiful Hula-Hoop Tree. ... Pictures don’t do the tree justice.”

Other people voiced anger over the removal.

“I’m most definitely not relieved that no notice was given,” wrote David Schick. “It’s not fair to a lot of people. Major dislike.”

Still others were supportive and understanding of the safety concern.

“Thanks for being responsible and so caring of other’s safety,” wrote Renee Adams. “You did the right thing.”

Bobby Krum, president of the Amber Community Club, told The Gazette in September that the club would consider resurrecting a monument of the tree or choosing a secondary tree for the hoops if it were ever cut down.

Comments: (319) 368-8664; grace.king@thegazette.com

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