By Sam Mason-Jones
The Sag Harbor Tree Fund turns 20 this summer and will observe its anniversary with a celebratory party, taking place in the Book House garden of Tom and Lucille Matthews on Sunday afternoon, August 3.
For two decades, the fund has strived to preserve and perpetuate the village’s greenery, both by means of protecting established trees, and planting and nurturing younger saplings.
A brainchild of Sag Harbor author and historian Lois Underhill, the Tree Fund was conceived in 1994 with the aim of sustaining and documenting the village’s trees with a comprehensive inventory and starting a Commemorative Tree Program.
Two decades later, the fund is comprised of a nine-member committee, which has contributed 330 trees through this memorializing initiative. The trees, many of which have been marked with bronze plaques, are planted in memory of various loved ones, with some dogs, cats and even a horse commemorated in this most organic of ways.
As well as individuals, though, the fund has planted a number of trees to solemnize various historic events. With tragedies like 9/11 and Flight 800 that crashed off Long Island among the incidents commemorated, the trees also provide a history of the last two decades.
History also provides an important grounding for some of the trees, with several of Sag Harbor’s finest able to trace their heritage to some of America’s most famous trees.
The two Jefferson elms recently planted on either side of the Sag Harbor Elementary School were grown from cuttings of the enormous Jefferson elm that still stands in front of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., having survived the ruthless Dutch elm disease epidemic.
Similarly, a seed taken from a tree planted by George Washington at Mount Vernon was planted in the Nancy Boyd Willey Park, giving life to the tulip poplar that now grows at the entrance to the village.
The committee has faced a number of difficulties in its 20 years of activity. The bitterly inclement weather poses a frequently potent threat to Sag Harbor’s urban forest, with Superstorm Sandy of 2012 proving a prime example.
Alison Bond, a member of the Tree Fund, spoke of the effects of the hurricane upon the village. “The after-effects of Hurricane Sandy were insidious for Sag Harbor. Though hardly any houses were damaged, several trees were downed and the tidal surge, which flooded onto Bay Street and right along Long Island Avenue, was a disaster,” she said. “Most of our commemorative trees planted in these low-lying areas became waterlogged or lost foliage from the salt-driven spray.”
Since recovering from this fallout left by Sandy, the committee has proceeded with a series of restorative projects, most notably the refurbishment of trees along badly-hit Long Island Avenue.
A part of the street has been lined with a procession of crepe myrtle trees, which have recently come into blossom. The restoration of this stretch, which runs between Howard and Glover streets, was completed by committee member and landscape gardener Ed Hollander, who named it “Jean’s Path” in honor of his mother.
The restoration of particular individual trees also represents a major undertaking for the Tree Fund, with recent eye-catching alterations particularly noteworthy. To coincide with the building taking place at the John Jermain Memorial Library, a commemorative tri color beech tree was moved from the building site to near the entrance of Mashashimuet Park.
Due to the success of this operation, with the beech looking particularly splendid in its new location, a permanent change of residence is now being discussed.
Looking to the future, committee-member Mac Griswold suggested that, above other things, assuring the longevity of the current trees is the priority of the Tree Fund.
“With the continued help of the village administration and our own efforts, I want our trees to grow tall and strong to shade and protect everyone who walks our village streets and lives in our houses. I hope we’ll be able to shape an endowment for the future”, she said.
The party on Sunday will mark a celebration of all these 20 years of work, which the Tree Fund is keen to share with the whole of Sag Harbor. It will run between 4 and 6 p.m., and tickets are $25 at the gate.