From a buffalo bur oak to Highlandville stream beds

By Kate Klimesh,

The story of a tree that led to betterment of the area’s natural resources

Warren Shuros, of Rochester, Minn., grew up near Highlandville, right over the hill from his current 40-acre property, hunting and fishing in the beautiful rural lands near North and South Bear Creeks. The 40-acre parcel was originally purchased for hunting, but Warren’s wife Lois wanted to make sure there was a cabin on the site as well, tucked cozily among many beautiful old-growth trees on the property. 
One thing led to another, and after retiring, Warren spends more time at the cabin than their permanent home in Rochester. “We just totally love the area,” Warren stated with a smile, “Building the cabin here was the best decision we ever made.” 
A generous stream of funding
The Shuros updated their will in 2017 and established the North and South Bear Creek Watershed Endowment Fund and Quasi Endowment Fund through the Community Foundation of NEIA for conservation and preservation of the watershed area including habitat improvement and streambank stabilization of the two streams. 
Recently a project on the head waters of North Bear Creek was authorized and partially funded by the USDA. 
Over a week’s time beginning Oct. 11, the Shuros were able to watch the North Bear Creek Watershed Improvement project completed to add weirs for trout habitat, fortify streambank stabilization and stream rehabilitation funded in part by the Shuros’ endowment fund and Trout Unlimited fundraising. The project was submitted by neighbors Adam and Jessica Kraus, but North Bear Creek also has a large public access: a 75-foot zone from the stream center out on each side.
The construction not only made the site more easily accessible with a four to one slope on many streambanks, but rehabilitated the stream for the fish that live there. The stream itself was graded, with professionals wading out in the waters to measure progress in sculpting the appropriate depth of the river with a backhoe. Large rocks and strategically placed weirs were placed for fish shelter, and the grade was lowered on one of the oxbows in the stream. 
“The stream is in far better shape for the future now,” Warren added. “It is really fun and rewarding to see something happening with your estate planning. The Shuros’ established the funds, which have grown since their inception. There are planning activities underway to continue improvements on North Bear Creek further downstream in the next few years. Their plan is to continue fund-raising for the endowment and contribute 45 percent of their final estate to the funds after they have passed. 
Driving their charitable efforts was the loss of their daughter in 2014, at age 28. Their daughter, Kesley, was diagnosed with Batten Disease in 2002, a progressive, degenerative neurological disease with no cure. “Over the course of the years, we’ve helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Batten disease research and support,” said Warren. “She’s a big reason we want to keep giving back.” 

Buffalo bur oak tree
Additional fundraising efforts stem from a fallen bur oak tree from the Shuros’ property. 
Two years ago, an article on the Shuros’ and one of their beautiful trees- a large bur oak, estimated at 330 years old, was featured in the newspaper. This particular bur oak had a recognizable burl growth in the shape of a distinct buffalo head. The tree had died naturally and was rotten at the very core, so once it was cut down, it was still impossible to know it’s true age. “We counted up to 300 rings, and know that this tree would have seen this area well before settlers moved in. It’s amazing to think what this tree has seen.” 
Warren knew the tree was significant, and as a woodworker, he wanted to use as much of the tree as he could to create lasting pieces of furniture and art to honor the tree. Warren had the tree dissected into usable sections: three-inch-thick slabs from the trunk up to 46 inches across and 12 foot long; two inch slabs from the largest branches, and as many chunks of bark as he could salvage. 
Warren also had wood from cherry, red cedar, red elm, walnut and ash trees from his property, but the bur oak… he knew that was special. The wild and winding grain of the bur oak reflects the flow of water and wildlife near North Bear Creek, creating ripples and eddies dancing across the boards, waiting to be showcased as the final piece of furniture. The tree was processed locally, cut, planed, and the main trunk slabs were air-dried for two years. 
The first of the large slabs of magical buffalo bur oak came home Oct. 17, and Warren couldn’t be more pleased. He plans to keep the slabs with their live edge-or uncut natural growth edge- and offer the slabs for sale alone, or finish the slab into a beautiful piece of furniture per request of the buyer. 
Warren has been working with other woods and the ‘buffalo’ oak branches – still a considerable section of wood, into couch tables, side tables, benches and wall art. Many feature a striking blue epoxy running down splits and fissures that Warren calls aptly, “River Tables.” 
“My first River Table was out of black walnut. I cut the board in half, flipped the outside live edge in, built a leakproof frame and poured the epoxy in the middle to join the two sides,” Warren stated, adding that he had learned much about the particulars of working with epoxy, “If you pour it too deep at one time, it will start smoking. I’ve made mistakes and learned.”
Warren offers a shiny clear epoxy finish or satin finishes using hand-rubbed polyeurethane as well as Danish oil for his tables, benches, charcuterie boards and wall hangings made from his boards. Even the deeply grooved bur oak bark pieces have been preserved and used as wall hangings – a beauty in their own right. 
The large slabs from the buffalo oak are starting to come back from being planed in Waucoma, and more pieces will be available in the future with proceeds directed into furthering the North and South Bear Creek streambed endowments, to help take care of the Highlandville area and North and South Bear watersheds for generations to come. 
The fall of the beautiful buffalo bur oak is the spark of hope and a promise of high-quality watersheds and stream beds in Highlandville due to the Shuros’ thoughtful planning. For more information on Warren and Lois Shuros, the buffalo oak or Buffalo Oak Woodworking, visit 

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