Pining for Answers - Debating the Future of the Village Christmas Tree

Last month, the community gathered on Charles Colman Boulevard outside the Chamber of Commerce building to watch the lighting of the Village Christmas tree as part of the annual Decemberfest Celebration. Following the event, an announcement was made that the thirty-foot Colorado Blue Spruce would no longer be used as part of the local holiday festivities. In the weeks that followed, residents took to social media to discuss the fate of the tree, and the ensuing debate even drew the attention of ABC 7 Eyewitness News who profiled the story as part of their 7 On Your Side series. Some residents called for the removal of the tree due to its advanced age, appearance and safety concerns, while others cited its place in Pawling tradition and the need for a professional examination of the problem. With rumors swirling throughout Pawling, concerned residents asked for clarification on the matter and were placed on the agenda for the Village Board meeting on January 21.

“When we read the article in The Pawling Record and when we attended the tree lighting, we were concerned about the Christmas tree,” said resident Joan Roberts. “Residents have posted on Facebook that they have been told that the tree is dying, rotting from the inside out, branches are falling off, and it is a danger to the Chamber of Commerce Building.”

“The only reason that I’m here is because I saw it on channel 7 News, where the gentleman (Village Trustee Earl Slocum) said that the tree is dying and he wants it down,” added Anthony Calogero. Mr. Calogero would go on to address the Board, stating that he believes there are more pressing local issues that deserve immediate attention. “I don’t think the tree is the biggest issue here, because there’s nothing wrong with that tree. There are more issues in Pawling than a tree that needs to be cut down, there’s a road where people are double parked and nobody can get through, and there’s a building that is rotting away.” Mr. Calogero would speak on concerns with garbage removal and infrastructure maintenance as issues facing residents which should be addressed before any consideration for the Village Christmas tree.

“The Village has not voted to remove the tree,” said Village Trustee Lauri Taylor. “We haven’t even discussed it, so I’m not even sure where this is coming from, except that something was said by the Sheriff at the tree lighting. We don’t have control over that, we didn’t discuss it as a Board, it wasn’t even on our agenda.”

With the Village clarifying that there are currently no plans to remove the tree, residents in attendance would hear from Native Landscapes Owner Pete Muroski and Arborist Jeff Borek of Arborx LLC. “For ten out of the last fifteen years I was the one putting the lights on the tree, and each year I’ve seen it slowly declining,” said Pete Muroski. “The tree is declining because of Spruce Decline and a fungus called Cytospora canker. Is the tree a hazard at the moment? No. Will it fall down eventually? Yes. What is really declining that tree is the limited space. It’s in a small space, with only about fifteen or twenty feet on either side for the roots to grow. There is also a lot of road salt being thrown beneath the tree, so we’re running into a lot of root problems.”

Mr. Borek was brought in by several residents to inspect and assess the condition of the tree as well, concurring with Muroski’s assessment. “There were no outward indications of internal or external decay on the tree. Ten or twenty years down the line, the tree will outgrow its space. There were some indications of previous Cytospora canker infections. I saw two limbs that had it, which is probably why they died, but I didn’t see it on any others.” Mr. Borek would go on to suggest pruning, periodic inspections, and proper soil fertilization as a course of action to help improve the tree’s health going forward.

With the Village Board’s stance on the tree’s fate clarified and the expert analysis of Mr. Borek and Mr. Muroski presented, officials and residents can continue to mull the future of the Decemberfest tree lighting. No official decision has been made at this time whether the Colorado Spruce beside the Chamber of Commerce Building will continue to be used, or if the festivities will be shifted to one of the smaller, younger trees on Charles Colman Boulevard.

“The size of the tree tree doesn’t make it a Christmas tree, it’s the spirit of it,” said Trinity-Pawling CFO Glenn Carey. Mr. Carey’s sentiments were echoed by Town Supervisor James Schmitt, who said “the size of the tree doesn’t make the holiday. Pawling makes the holiday.”