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The Elbow Tree
by Audrey Poff, illustration by Brittney Guest

Earlier this year, the City of Jonesboro posted a photo of the iconic “Elbow Tree” at Craighead Forest Park on social media. It elicited dozens of comments, with many people sharing fond memories of seeing the tree during visits to the park over the course of several generations.

?My first introduction to Craighead Forest was as a college student. Although I grew up just an hour away from Jonesboro, I had never heard of Craighead Forest before attending Arkansas State University. Like many students who make Jonesboro their home during college, it served as a quick escape from studies and stress. I moved away after college, but after returning years later, I enjoyed spending time with all of our kids at the park enjoying the playgrounds, fishing, cookouts, sledding in the snow, biking and more.

?I have a vivid memory of riding bikes with my son, Adam, when he was about 12 years old on a stretch of road near the Elbow Tree. Following a late afternoon rain, we had taken our bikes to Craighead Forest. After we rounded a curve, Adam proceeded full speed ahead of me as young, energetic boys do. As he approached a young couple pushing a stroller toward him, I heard his tires squeal out of control. When I looked up, he was sliding straight into the couple’s path. Just a few feet from impact on wet pavement, he was able to pull out of it and avoid wiping the couple and their child off the face of the earth. Fortunately, most visits to the park were less dramatic.

For more than 30 years, I’ve enjoyed outings to Craighead Forest, and with each visit, I always look forward to seeing the bent tree.

?Although there is no way to prove how the Elbow Tree got its unique shape, there is speculation that it is a Native American Indian Trail Tree. The unusually bent trees were once scattered across the country, remnants of the Native American culture that were used to point toward water, trails or other geographical features before white settlers arrived in the 19th century.

Although many have disappeared with time, Indian Trail Trees once dotted the region. A group called the Mountain Stewards initiated The Trail Tree Project in 2007 in an effort to learn more about the history and origin of these uniquely bent trees. The Elbow Tree located in Craighead Forest is registered in the Mountain Stewards’ Trail Tree Database as TTP-2914 and can be viewed at mountainstewards.org.

Anyone who frequents Craighead Forest knows that the Elbow Tree has seen better years. Knowing how local residents feel about this iconic landmark, I recently contacted Jonesboro Parks and Recreation Director Danny Kapales to find out what kind of shape it’s in.

“It’s sickly,” said Kapales, who said he was uncertain of the tree’s future. “All I know is that toward the end of last summer, the leaves on it turned brown very quickly.”

?At this point, Kapales said he is uncertain as to whether there is any way to prolong the life of the park’s beloved tree.

?Whether it stands another season, another year or another decade, the Elbow Tree has been a part of Jonesboro’s history and its heart for generations.