Clark, mighty oak shared common beginning at ITD
They grew together in each other’s shadow for 40 years – Dennis Clark and a sprawling oak tree.
Their history at the Idaho Transportation Department had a common beginning in 1968 after Clark accepted a position on the three-person landscape architect staff that also included Caron Beard and Leroy Brady.
Members of the Headquarters grounds crew presented the landscape architect team with a dilemma in 1968 – they wanted a suggestion for replacing a prominent honey locust tree that had fallen victim to a strong wind. It was uprooted from a spot immediately south of the main Headquarters building and east of the Division of Motor Vehicles wing.
Collectively the landscape architects, including newcomer Clark, suggested replacing the fallen tree with an oak.
A 15- to 18-foot replacement was secured from Cloverdale Nursery. But what first appeared to be a good deal raised doubts after it arrived. The young tree, Clark remembers, looked to be in very poor health. “It will never grow,” skeptics said. Clark and his colleagues weren’t convinced. Give it time, they suggested.
The young tree survived and grew.
So did Clark’s career.
The two parted ways in 1976 when Clark took an environmental planner position at District 3. Twenty years later the two became reacquainted when Clark returned to Headquarters as manager of the Environmental Section. He closed out the final decade of his 40-year career looking down on the oak from his second-story window, not far from the office he first occupied.
To honor Clark’s vision, his March 31 retirement and the tree’s tenacity, colleagues presented a cast aluminum plaque that reads: “They said it wouldn’t grow. Oak tree planted in 1968 by Dennis Clark – 40 years of ITD Service”
The story of the oak tree and his involvement have been embellished slightly, Clark admits. He didn’t actually plant the tree but was involved in its selection and took an active interest in its growth.
Friends, family and colleagues dropped by for a farewell open house at Headquarters March 31 to honor Clark. The event was intended to last about two hours. It stretched well past three as people continued to file by to tell him good-bye.
In addition to the plaque presentation, ITD Director Pam Lowe delivered a short message acknowledging his four decades of contributions to the department and state, and co-workers displayed a three-dimensional model typical of what landscape designers used in planning construction projects.
When Clark arrived, landscape architects were part of roadside development that worked on roadway and interchange landscaping, rest area designs, scenic easements and standard right-of-way reclamation seeding statewide, he explains.
The environmental emphasis was born out of the highway beautification efforts of Ladybird Johnson in the mid-1960s. The concept has expanded substantially and now encompasses the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other federal acts regulating clean air, water, noise and natural and cultural resources. ITD’s adoption of concept sensitive design also requires that construction projects take into consideration the environment in which they are built, Clark says.
The Environmental Section he managed since 1998 includes 10 full-time employees and a part-time employee. Each district also has at least one environmental planner who becomes part of project planning at the concept level.
In his 40 years at ITD, Clark:
Among the notable projects he worked on were the U.S. 95 Weiser Bypass, U.S. 95 Devil’s Elbow and the Interstate 84 Glenns Ferry structure. He was involved in initial planning on two projects that were proposed but have yet to built – the McCall Alternate Route and Smiths Ferry to Round Valley, both on Idaho 55.
In addition to his professional accomplishments, Clark also has been involved in the Boise schools community education program.
Retirement will enable Clark and his wife Judy to explore parts of Idaho that she has not visited yet and to work on a few projects around their home. Near the top of the project list, ironically, is landscaping the back yard.