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Iconic tree at NFA has to go

By Claire Bessette

Publication: theday.com

Published August 21. 2012 6:00PM   Updated August 22. 2012 12:07AM

Norwich — Norwich Free Academy doesn't let go of its historic images and landmarks easily, but when a massive 1,000-pound limb of the 160-year-old weeping beech tree recently came crashing down, academy officials had no choice.

An arborist from Lindon Tree Service of Eastford recommended that the tree be torn down.

"I cannot guarantee anyone's safety anymore," NFA Chief Financial Officer Rich Rand quoted from the tree service report to the Board of Trustees Tuesday.

Rand estimated the iconic Weeping European beech tree was planted in about the 1850s or '60s, and its estimated lifespan is about 100 to 125 years. Over the years, NFA crews have installed cables to support major limbs and have fertilized the ground beneath the tree regularly.

The first aid no longer will work, Rand said, and the tree must be removed before school starts next week. The diagnosis said the tree has three fatal flaws. It has "sudden branch failure," Rand reported to the chuckles of board members. But officially, that means water is not reaching the limbs.

The tree also has sun scald, meaning dry and dead areas at the top are not protecting the tree limbs beneath. And, Rand said, the tree has beech bark disease, which is rotting the tree.

Rand said the removal would start this morning. He did not have a cost estimate for the removal and could not say yet whether any of the wood would be salvageable. Aside from the rot problems, NFA has no place to store huge tree logs for possible future use.

Rand said for years, he fretted being "the one" to have to come to the board and say the tree had to be torn down, but it could not be avoided. He hopes to replace the tree with another Weeping European beech tree — a much smaller one to start.

"Let's start the process over again," he said. "It's time for a new era."

Board members agreed, although they also were relieved they were not required to cast the votes to condemn the tree.

"It's a common sense thing to do," board Chairman David Whitehead said. "It's fortunate it happened when no one was around."

c.bessette@theday.com

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