Giant gator to greet Grapeview students this fall


Shelton-Mason County Journal of Shelton, Washington

A new figure will meet students at the entrances to Grapeview School when they return to the building in the fall.

A 20-foot-tall wooden gator — in honor of the school's mascot — has taken up residence in the courtyard of the elementary and middle school.

"It's going to be the focal point between the buildings," said Jay Hambly, superintendent for Grapeview School District.

The district decided to add the new mascot pole this spring, after an old-growth cedar tree that stood in the courtyard began dying.

The district completed a slew of construction and additions throughout the past two years, and carefully planned its work around the tree with hopes that it would be the centerpiece of the courtyard, between the middle and elementary schools, Hambly said.

However, this spring, construction workers began to notice the top of the tree was bare, which signaled death of the tree.

"We figured we shouldn't have a dying tree in the middle," Hambly said.

"We wanted a focal point, but not a dangerous one."

The district instead turned to local woodcarver George Kenny, who has operated a carving business and school in Allyn for 23 years.

Kenny sketched out a gator crawling down the length of the tree and set to work.

When Kenny cut the tree down to begin the process, the district received another shock — the tree was almost the same age as Grapeview School.

"We counted the rings, and it seems the tree was planted about the same time the school was established in 1911," Hambly said.

Kenny said the carving process took about a week.

"You can't just go about it willy nilly," he said. "You have to have a sketch and a plan."

Kenny and his stepson, Garrett Airies, striped the bark from the tree and drew the gator along the log. Then, Kenny made the first incisions and Airies completed the more delicate cuts, both using a chainsaw.

"You do it one little nibble at a time," Kenny said. "And you end up with a mountain of sawdust at the bottom at the end."

In addition to the gator, Kenny also made a bench for the front of the school and two smaller poles, which were presented to the Grapeview Community Association and the Mason Benson Club as thanks for supporting the school.

"We really just wanted to honor those organizations for all that they've done throughout the years," Hambly said.

The 4-foot poles were customized — the Grape-view Community Association received a pole with a cluster of grapes, and Mason Benson Club's pole had two lakes, representing Mason and Benson lakes.

The poles were presented, and the mascot pole installed, during the first part of June.

Hambly said he's received positive feedback from the community on the new art.

"A lot of people thought it would be a great idea to preserve a tree that we wouldn't normally be able to," he said. "And now, the students have this piece of history and art that they can take ownership of, hopefully for a very long time."

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