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Tree-loving pioneers across Utah took cuttings from native willow and cottonwood trees growing along washes, went into the foothills for pinyon and juniper seedlings and climbed high into Six Mile and Twelve Mile canyons for spruce saplings. They made their plantings along ditch banks and at their home sites.

They did it to reclaim the desert, to beautify their dusty streets and to remind them of their former homes in the East, England or Denmark.And so it was with Ephraim.

Legend has it that the 84 trees that lend a certain distinction to Ephraim's north entrance came across the ocean as seedlings, then across the Plains and high mountains to Ephraim where they reside beside a small stream that flows north along Main Street.

Thus the name they've been known by for a century or so - ocean willows.

Clyde Blauer, who teaches botany at Snow College, says the 84 trees that tower above the highway are actually black willows, a fast-growing native American species with a relatively short life span.

The long row of trees, Blauer says, has probably achieved its normal life span. The old trees suffer from brittle limbs.

They've had their share of surgery at the hands of chainsaws, they've had accidents, they've had a fair amount of tender, loving care.

In winter, they look stark and gaunt; in summer, they are lush and hearty. But they create problems. In a heavy snowstorm or in a high wind, the brittle branches break loose, scattering debris along the heavily traveled highway.

They're a safety hazard, say some residents who would like to get rid of the willows, maybe replaced by a new generation.

But others think the willows - whether ocean or black - can still have some good years. Martha Olsen, who lives under the shadow of trees, is one of them. Like other folks, the willows should have special care, she says. "It takes 50 years to grow a tree like them. And they're not only a special attribute of our town but a part of our history."

Other Utah towns have a similar problem: The first generation of trees has reached old age.

Horticulturists have suggested a number of replacement trees: the maiden hair tree, English oak, Turkish filbert, the hardy rubber tree, Norway maple, upright European horndean, European birch, the bald cypress, the Mongolian or silver linden.

Blauer, who is chairman of the Ephraim Tree Commission, wants to see replacements so that a new generation is under way. But he says soil, elevation, climate and the characteristics of the variety should be taken into account in the selection process.

He has some favorites for his own planting: the Chinese elm, Norway maple, green ash, catalpa, horsechestnuts, sycamore, the lindens. "In our zone," he says, "hardiness has to be a principal consideration."

Olsen admits to having a continued love affair with the old apple tree in her back yard and the willow trees - ocean or black - not far from her front door.