South Charlotte

Lightning damages town's beloved tree

The recent severe storms may have dealt a death blow to the large cedar tree in the middle of Matthews' Stumptown Park.

It's a shady spot for picnickers and a resident favorite during the town's summer festivals, movie screenings and live concerts.

But now the tree's canopy is severely damaged - like a piece of broccoli sliced in half.

The once lush cedar has gaping wounds where the trunk was struck by lightning and large branches were ripped from their sockets.

The recent storm is just one of several to take chunks out of the tree.

Matthews' Landscape Manager Ralph Ramsaur, a certified arborist, estimates the Stumptown Park cedar tree is 60 or 70 years old. He said cedars grow extremely slowly and don't recover well from serious damage.

"The growth doesn't flush back out," said Ramsaur. "It takes forever, if at all, to grow back in. So what you've got is skeletal-looking."

The tree has been a part of the town for more than 20 years.

Matthews officials acquired the land along South Trade Street (now Stumptown Park) in 1990, said Public Works Director Ralph Messera.

The cedar became the town's official Christmas tree.

In 2000, former Mayor Lee Myers broke ground on the new town hall and library, and a few years later, the Village Green in front of the town hall became the town's centerpiece for holiday celebrations.

Then, a new official Christmas tree was cut every year, set up and decorated in the Village Green.

But the multicolored lights continued glowing from the old cedar tree in Stumptown Park.

The tree had been struck by lightning several years ago, and in 2009, the town decided it was too ragged to turn on the lights.

Now the recent storms have caused the once-bright Christmas lights to litter the ground among shards of cedar bark.

The ends of the cords are severed and hang limply from the branches.

"It's going to be difficult to ... clean up (the tree) with that hole in the side of it," said Lee Tillery, director of Parks and Recreation for the town of Matthews.

Ramsaur checked out the tree early last week to see if he could salvage it through pruning.

He said he thinks the damage is too great.

He gave his suggestion to the town board, which will make the final call.

Ramsaur said they might vote in favor of salvaging it for its sentimental value.

"That little area is used for concerts and events, so it gets a lot of activity around there," said Ramsaur. "Maybe that's the reason they'd be hesitant to take it out ... Around here they take the trees pretty seriously."

It could be a couple of weeks before the town board makes a decision on the Stumptown Park cedar, Ramsaur said.

But in the meantime, the tree does not pose a danger to park visitors.

"Cedars can last hundreds of years," said Ramsaur. "That tree isn't going to fall down."