Pittsford officials planned a wistful farewell on Monday, April 23 for the town's iconic 200-year-old copper beech tree.
Pittsford officials planned a wistful farewell on Monday, April 23 for the town’s iconic 200-year-old copper beech tree.
“A dear old friend is very sick. And I think that’s how so many people think of this tree,” sighed town supervisor Bill Smith.
Arborists declared the tree, which towers over Copper Beech Park on State Street, hopelessly, and dangerously compromised by kretzchmaria deusta, a fungus which ravages beech trees. Within the next week, the town plans to cut it down, but not before a public ceremony to commemorate the tree and say goodbye.
The ceremony was scheduled for Monday at 6:00 pm.
“It’s an institution,” declared Steve Burruto, a resident of nearby Penfield but a constant visitor to downtown. “It’s the first thing you see when you pull into the four corners of Pittsford and it’s going to be sad to see it go.”
“We would all start our mornings here at the tree,” recalled Brent Coleman, manager at Thirsty’s bar next door to Cooper Beech Park who spent his boyhood meeting up with friends at the tree. “Summertime mornings,” he said. “We were young. We were out of school. Didn’t have cell phones. Everybody just knew to meet at the tree and we’d go from there, whether we go to the ball field or go fishing.”
The tree had become such a fixture in Pittsford that it was incorporated into the town’s logo decades ago and organizers of the upcoming 2018 Pittsford Paddle and Pour festival in May made it the central feature of the festival’s poster.
“The iconography of that copper beech tree is something that people associate with the town,” explained Smith. “It has been front and center. Really before Pittsford became such a built up and suburban community in the latter half of the 20th century, for so many years, a century and a half and more, that was at the center of where things happened in Pittsford.”
But arborists diagnosed the tree with K-deusta in 2011 and in 2015, the danger became impossible to ignore. A huge limb dropped off the tree and flattened a car in a nearby parking lot. “Limbs from a very heavy tree could fall on somebody and kill them,” Smith exclaimed. “If you can crash a car, you can imagine what it would do to a person.”
As a safety precaution, the town removed benches from around the tree to avoid encouraging people to sit nearby. Images taken of the trees interior revealed the fungus had rendered it almost completely hollow, finally prompting the decision to cut the tree down soon. “You can preserve it for so long and then you just can’t,” Smith said.
As its final days ticked down, town leaders contemplated ways to memorialize the tree. Smith said the Pittsford Garden Club was considering turning wood from the tree into mementos. And the tree has already been cloned. Cuttings from the tree sprouted into saplings which grew in a Wayne County nursery waiting until they were large enough to plant around Pittsford in an homage to the iconic copper beech.
The city also planned to scour the tree with cameras to immortalize any initials carved into the bark by generations of young people. Those young people included Paul Schenkel who grew up to become Pittsford’s Public Works Commissioner.
“There are plenty of initials and I will candidly admit that somewhere in that tree are my initials,” Schenkel admitted. “I do remember as a kid, climbing up somewhere in that tree and perhaps scraping my initials in it.”
Once the cloned saplings were old enough to transplant, town leaders proposed planting them around Pittsford to keep the tree’s legacy going for future generations. Unfortunately, one site will be off limits for the new plantings. Even after the old tree is removed, the soil around its location will remain contaminated with K-deusta fungus, meaning no new copper beech trees can be planted in Copper Beech Park.