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Cranford Officials Continue To Ponder The Fate Of 'Old Peppy'

The Township Committee continued it's discussion regarding the future of a 250-year-old pepperidge tree.

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.

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Lisa5 August 14, 2012 at 11:32 AM
I certainly hope that before the make any decision they consult with historical tree experts. I believe that a professor at Union County College, Dr. Ombrello manages a historical tree farm on campus.
Jim Buettner August 14, 2012 at 12:14 PM
Has anyone thought of planting one of its seeds while the historical experts ponder its fate! Who knows we may just have a 250 year old tree by the time a decision is made. Might be one way to preserve its legacy.
Mike Ellenbacher August 14, 2012 at 01:23 PM
Outside of planting a seed, if the tree must come down, offer branch clippings to all garden clubs for rooting - could result in enough "clones of Peppy" to populate all of Cranford's parks, and extras could be sold to raise money for park/garden maintenance as well!
Elizabeth Zamorski August 14, 2012 at 04:20 PM
I believe there is a tree planted in a nearby location that is a seedling of this tree. Not sure it is still alive.
Elizabeth Zamorski August 14, 2012 at 04:21 PM
How about doing a fundraiser to pay for the fence. We have fundraisers for other things, why not the fence?
pcisme@me.com August 14, 2012 at 10:06 PM
Dear Mayor Robinson, Town Council, and Tree Advisory Council: Go away!!! Leave me the f### alone! I survived Hurricane Irene, was born before the Revolutionary War, survived the war of 1812 and the Civil War, as well as the Great Depression and the Great Recession. I will be here after you die so chill and get on with your lives. A 6-foot chain link fence is pretty cheesy but so is the pre-emptive ordering of trees being removed throughout the Township because of fear. Quite frankly, I am super nervous because you guys don't get it and fear is a great motivator...to find "weapons of mass destruction," kill President Kennedy and set the Aurora theater to killing. Go away! Leave me alone!!! Old Peppy
Dee August 17, 2012 at 04:47 PM
If Irene didn't take down old Peppy, then I say leave her alone and let nature take its course. There are plenty of other trees needing trimming or cutting down along the roadways and sidewalks in this town that are not being taken care of. Peppy is fenced off, signs are posted - let her be.
John Q August 18, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Do we need to wait for the tragedy to happen in order to act? Either put up the fence for 6 grand or take the tree down. These comments made by tree advisory board members about people frequenting the trees shade for fun should raise a flag. For a town concerned about liability, this inaction shows that bureaucracy is winning over logic!
pcisme@me.com August 18, 2012 at 09:40 PM
Johnny Q, the only "tragedy" is your concern for "weapons of mass destruction. Your Luddite flat earth "Romney Ryan 2012"! Reagan "killer trees" way of thinking is dumb. We should drain all rivers and Niagara Falls to avoid flooding and drowning! Old Peppy
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