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End of an era for historic sugar maple tree

February 20, 2019 GMT

DUMMERSTON, Vt. (AP) — The ancient sugar maple had graced the lawn in front of the equally old home on the East-West Road in Dummerston Center since shortly after the Revolutionary War. Once the largest sugar maple in the state of Vermont, the 110-foot tall maple was cut down Thursday, a casualty of old age and decay.

In 2008, the sugar maple tree was crowned the biggest sugar maple in the state of Vermont, having been measured as 110 feet high, with a 90-foot canopy, a six and half foot diameter trunk, which produced a 17-foot circumference, but it eventually lost its crown to a maple in Westminster.

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Homeowner Richard Virkstis said he had reluctantly decided to have the multi-trunk tree come down because it was no longer safe. The tree had as many cables as a cat has lives: the cables were keeping the tree from dropping its large limbs on the East-West Road, as well as the Virkstis’ 18th century house, which was built in 1796.

Godfrey Renaud of Renaud Tree Care and his crew of arborists started the job early Thursday morning, and the strong late winter sun popped temperatures into the low 30s as the skies turned bluebird blue. Using the Renaud crane, the tree crew “started at the top,” trimming and cutting, as the tree which had stood for centuries came down.

Virkstis said Renaud had tended the tree since 1990 — putting in cables, fertilizing and pruning the tree — to try and keep it going for another century. But despite the care and attention, the base of the tree was cracked and rotted, spelling doom. The decision came, Virkstis said, when Renaud “expressed great concern for the integrity of the tree.”

Renaud, taking a break from the all-day job, said taking the tree down from the top was the only way, given the number of cables in the tree. Workers tied on to one big branch, cut it, and lowered it to the ground, where it was limbed and the smaller branches fed into the chipper.

Renaud said the tree would probably produce 4 1/2 cords of firewood eventually for the Virkstis family, and maybe as much as 12 cords, depending on the amount of rot in the main trunks of the tree. “Because of the rot, we won’t be able to count the rings on the tree,” he said. “But it’s got to be 200 years plus.”

Renaud said the tree was measured by Bill Guenther, the retired Windham County forester. “It’s stressed out and has been for years and years,” said Renaud, a certified arborist. He said about half of the tree’s root system was blunted by the nearby road, adding to its problems. Virkstis said he had originally suspected road salt had also harmed the tree, but tests showed the level of salt in the soil was low.

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Virkstis and his family moved to the house about 48 years ago, buying the home from the Ridgway family. Virkstis said the tree was tapped for sugaring for a couple of years by neighbor Dennis Baker. “When the tree began to show some deterioration, he stopped tapping our tree,” he said.

Renaud said the honor of largest maple now rested with a maple on the grounds of Sojourns, the health clinic on Route 5 in Westminster. He said his tree service took care of the Westminster maple as well, adding cables and removing dead wood.

Renaud said the fact that the Dummerston Center tree was rotted at its base meant there was nothing to do but take it down. “It’s all rotted, there’s a huge cavity there,” he said, noting he had gotten up on a ladder and discovered the problem.

Renaud, after getting a forestry degree, started his tree care business 32 years ago. “It was learn as you go,” he said. He said the job of taking down the tree, and eventually grinding down the stump, would cost about $4,000.

“Ours seemed too big and tall to support what we knew to be a terribly weakened trunk,” Virkstis wrote via email, since he was out of state visiting family at the time the tree came down on Thursday.

“Upon the advice of many experts who examined the tree we finally decided to be proactive. The situation seemed to be an accident waiting to happen.”

Virkstis said he had asked Renaud to wait until the family returned from California this spring to grind down the base of the tree for a final farewell.

“Truly a sad day for us,” he said.

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Online: https://bit.ly/2GKvAin

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Information from: Brattleboro Reformer, http://www.reformer.com/