Fate of Cranford’s favorite tree hangs in the balance

Officials debate what to do with ‘Old Peppy’

File Photo Old Peppy, a 250-year-old pepperidge tree that has stood as the symbol of Cranford for decades is seen here in 2010 just days after it suffered damage in a winter storm. The tree may be on its last legs as the township committee debates whether to take it down or secure it for the future.
File Photo
Old Peppy, a 250-year-old pepperidge tree that has stood as the symbol of Cranford for decades is seen here in 2010 just days after it suffered damage in a winter storm. The tree may be on its last legs as the township committee debates whether to take it down or secure it for the future.

CRANFORD – The fate of the township’s oldest tree and favorite symbol, “Old Peppy,” continues to be debated, but officials could be close to removing it.

The township has been debating what to do with the pepperidge tree located in Lincoln Park, which is on Lincoln Avenue near the corner of Benjamin Street. The massive tree is believed to be at least 250-years-old and was named the official tree of Cranford in 1964, when it was 76-feet high.

No one is sure when the tree earned the nickname of Old Peppy, but the specimen has been noted as one of the largest of its kind, now towering 88-feet high.

However, time has not been a friend to Old Peppy. It is more than showing years of wear and tear.
In fact, some are concerned this tree that was already 100-years-old when Cranford was incorporated in 1876 should come down.
The future of the pepperidge tree, which actually is a black gum or sour gum, has been in question for several years.
In 2009 when fierce winter winds split the trunk, the governing body debated exactly what could be done to shore up this historical tree that was growing when New Jersey was a new colony and settlers were getting to know the Delaware Indians.

Although township officials considered taking down the massive tree in 2010, they stopped short of that action, deciding instead to have a tree service trim some of the branches near the split section to lessen the weight on the trunk. Four support cables were also used to anchor an unsteady bough to the main trunk.

In 2012 the governing body discussed the issue at length because several members felt Old Peppy was a public hazard, but others did not agree. This contingent felt pursuing preservation was the best option, the only option.

The question of public safety was also addressed with the main focus on how much protection the fence surrounding the fractured tree provided.

At the time, Frank D’Antonio, Chairman of the Tree Advisory Board, told the township committee the fence was merely decorative and never meant to be anything more. He told the governing body the township would have to install a chain-link fence around the tree at a cost of $6,000 in order to protect visitors and keep children from getting too close.
That idea died because elected officials thought it would be an eyesore.

Resident Tom Hannen, who had yet to run for the governing body, offered to donate materials for a vinyl picket fence from his nearby plastic factory, but this too was rejected.

Governing body members at the time felt the tree needed as much as $30,000 preservation work without any guarantee the tree would not continue to deteriorate.

Instead they decided to get an update on the condition of the tree before moving forward with any plan.
Fast forward a few years and once again the governing body is discussing what to do with this tree, but again, everyone is split.
According to Township Committee Member Tom Hannen, the Tree Advisory Board also is split on whether to try and preserve the tree or have it removed.

“It’s not dead. The limbs are still hanging in there,” quipped the governing body member, but on a more serious note, he also said that the township could erect a black powdered aluminum fence.

“Your eyes don’t notice the black fence, they look beyond it,” Hannen said.
Commissioner Robert D’Ambola, though, made a recommendation at the end of June that the tree be cut down, but Hannen said during the public portion of the meeting he did not think that should happen.

“Peppy is going to outlast us all,” the governing body member said, but D’Ambola did not agree.
“I don’t want to be on the committee when it falls down,” he said, adding that he would rather have live kids and a dead tree.
Mayor Andy Kalnins agreed, asking that the cost of removing the tree be further investigated. D’Ambola said a tree ordinance was being drafted to address the issue, but the township might have to replant 100 trees in its place.