A Saratoga Springs landmark is no more -- city work crews on Wednesday cut down a beloved willow tree in Congress Park.
Some are wondering if the tree, a gathering spot for prom dates, picnics and wedding parties for decades, had to leave its longtime spot near the park's carousel ride in pieces.
"The fact is, it wasn't threatening the carousel or anything else," said Rick Fenton, a volunteer with Sustainable Saratoga, a not-for-profit organization that promotes sustainable practices and the protection of natural resources through education and advocacy. "It was leaning away from the carousel. It wasn't over a parking lot; it had a lot of life in it."
Fenton, a retired forester for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, added the massive tree was hollow.
"If you worried about kids playing inside the tree, a simple measure could have been taken to keep kids from playing in the tree," he said. "I guess what I'm saying is a conversation could have happened."
Calls made Wednesday afternoon to Saratoga Springs Mayor Meg Kelly and Department of Public Works Commissioner Anthony "Skip" Scirocco were not returned.
'I would have slept in it'
The tree removal did not come without some drama. Saratoga Springs resident Rhianna Leigh Stallard said she was driving by the park Tuesday morning and noticed a public works truck near the tree, with some branches already down.
At the time, there were no workers on site. Stallard said she decided to climb about 20 feet up the tree and wait for them to return. "I just sat up there and waited for them to leave," she said. "And they eventually left."
Stallard also said she talked to public works officials, and thought she had secured at least a temporary reprieve for the tree's removal. She said she was surprised when she saw crews at work on the willow Wednesday morning.
"I would have slept in it overnight had I known they were going to be there in the morning, or I would have gotten up earlier," Stallard said.
Stallard said the tree could have been saved. "I think it was a real monument for the city," she said.
Stallard received some support after she posted comments about the tree removal on social media site Facebook.
"If it had to go, which may be the case, we could have at least had a ceremony for this living thing," said one man.
"They should at least give pieces of it to the community if they want it," a woman posted. "I would even just love a slice of it to keep. Lots of picnics under that tree."
Fenton, who said Sustainable Saratoga works with the Department of Public Works and the city, said he understands DPW concerns for potential damages and injuries breaking trees can cause. But for a tree considered a great tree in the city, he believes community input and public comments could have proven useful before the city decided on removal.
"Explain what they're doing and why they're doing it before they do it," Fenton said.
Fenton also said the tree was one of his favorites in Saratoga Springs. He could not estimate its age.
"It's a willow and they grow really fast," he said. "This had a very big, gnarly trunk and it looks like it was pretty old. It's not like it was 200 years old. It might be less than 100, but it was hard to tell because it was largely hollow so it's not a matter of counting the rings."
Fenton said even some of the limbs were hollow. He added that members of the community were surprised a few years ago when the city removed pine trees near the park's "Spirit of Life" statue.
"That just kind of underscores the importance of the community conversation," he said.
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or [email protected].