Members of the Township Committee are still trying to decide whether or not to go out on a limb and save Cranford's oldest tree which has begun to deteriorate in recent years.
Nearly three years ago, the pepperidge tree, located in Lincoln Park, split in two and was thought to be a goner. Since then, "Old Peppy" has survived an earthquake, Hurricane Irene and a freak October snowstorm. Members of the township's Tree Advisory Committee say the tree is still alive and well and is, in fact, formed from one of the strongest types of wood in nature.
During a Township Committee workshop meeting Monday night, officials continued discussing options for the tree's future. Commissioners are concerned that one of the tree's heavy boughs could eventually break off and cause someone injury.
The most extreme measure would be to cut down the centuries-old tree. A more conservative approach would be to construct a six-foot-tall chain link fence around Old Peppy and post signs cautioning residents against getting too close to the tree. The fence could cost the township upwards of $6,000. There is currently a fence surrounding the tree, which is frequently visited by residents and classes from local schools.
Two years ago, a tree service trimmed some of the branches on the split section to alleviate the weight, then installed four support cables to anchor the unsteady bough to the main trunk of the tree. If officials vote to save the tree, more trimming would have to be done to keep the limbs stable.
The Pepperidge tree, or nissa sylvanicus in Latin, is also known as the sour gum, blackgum, or black tupelo in other parts of the country. Old Peppy is believed to be the largest in the northeastern United States and is estimated at more than 250 years old. Some members of the Tree Advisory Committee say there are pepperidge trees in the United States that may be up to 850 years old.
Old Peppy is deeply rooted in Cranford - and United States - history. It was there when New Jersey was an English colony and watched the Delaware Indians greet the first settlers in the area. It has been alive through the inaugurations of 44 presidents and a dozen wars. Horse-drawn carriages and Ford Mustangs have moved past it. There is even an Old Peppy Facebook page. Recognizing the importance of the tree to township history, residents began taking steps to preserve the tree back in the 1960s.
"You cannot replace this tree. It is the signature tree of Cranford," said resident Barbara Krause, a member of the Tree Advisory Board who has also offered to donate funds to help defray a small portion of the cost involved in saving the tree.
Frank D'Antonio, the chairman of the Tree Advisory Committee told the Township Committee that several tree experts have evaluated the situation and none of them would definitively say that erecting a fence and trimming the tree would extend Old Peppy's lifespan significantly. Krause urged officials to avoid "taking a saw to it until nature takes its course."
"None of the experts indicated it was a lost cause," Krause said. "To remove our history is a sad thing to do."
While township commissioners were not opposed to constructing a fence around Old Peppy, they did have concerns about safety issues. Commissioner Lisa Adubato Nesi was worried about liability and whether or not a fence would protect the township in the event of an accident caused by a falling branch or tree limb. D'Antonio said he drives past Old peppy often and although he has never seen anyone sitting under the tree, members of the committee have found debris under the tree, suggesting that some residents might seek shade on hot days beneath the iconic pepperidge.
Mayor David Robinson assured concerned citizens that there was "no danger of the town taking a chainsaw to the tree tonight." He said officials will revisit the issue during their next meeting.
"I think this requires further discussion," Robinson said.