A tree townspeople call historic has become the center of controversy in West Liberty after word of its possible felling spread.
The pine tree, at the corner of Detroit and Columbus streets, that is decorated annually for Christmas sits on the property of the West Liberty Town Hall. Plans for ongoing renovation of the town hall currently call for the tree to be removed so that a brick walkway can be installed.
“Our concern is that if we don’t remove the tree now that it will eventually and not very long possibly die and then would be a hazard,” said Bob Harrison, a member of the West Liberty Historical Society, who is on the committee for the renovation.
But nearly a thousand people have joined a Facebook group in support of keeping the tree, which they call the center of the village’s holiday celebrations.
“If you’re going to ask somebody, ‘What do you think about West Liberty?’ — they’re going to say, ‘They’ve got a nice Christmas tree,’ ” said Jeff Wolfe, who started the Facebook group last week.
The historical society plans to listen to the community’s input Monday at a meeting at the Liberty Gathering Place, 111 N. Detroit St., between 6-11 a.m. Officials will listen to concerns before they make any decisions on the fate of the tree, Harrison said.
An online petition has more than 200 signatures so far and will be presented to the village council when they meet Monday night, Wolfe said.
“It seems like public opinion should mean something, especially in a town as small as this one,” said Debbie Piatt, who signed the petition.
The number of people who joined the group and voiced concerns over the tree shocked Wolfe, he said, but he is happy the community is coming together to try to save the tree.
Some residents say it would be a shame if the historical society and city council brings the tree down because it is the focal point during the village’s annual holiday parade and tree-lighting ceremony.
“It is a symbol of the holidays,” said Melanie Wirick, who has lived in West Liberty for years since moving to the town with her husband, at West Liberty native.
“You wait for that to be lit and there’s just something magical when it is lit,” she said.
The tree is living, but an arborist told the historical society it is near the end of its life expectancy and could soon pose a threat to neighboring structures and people on the streets if it falls, Harrison said.
A new, underground water drainage plan for the upgraded town hall will have to be installed around the tree’s root system, construction workers said, but should not severely damage the tree.
The tree’s outdated Christmas lights need updated, Harrison said, to LED lights and would cost money to replace.
A local tree trimmer said he would donate his truck and labor to install the new lights, said Doug Oelker, of West Liberty, who is a member of the Facebook group.
The historical society holds the ultimate decision on what to do with the tree, Harrison said, but will ask for a vote from the village council before they make any moves.
The council is scheduled to meet Monday at 7:30 p.m. in the West Liberty Community Room.