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Public Square’s ailing holiday tree soon will be replaced

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WATERTOWN — Decorated with thousands of lights at Christmastime for the past 23 years, the giant Colorado blue spruce in Public Square soon will be chopped down.

But don’t worry, the city is not becoming a Scrooge.

The 40-foot blue spruce is dying of a fungal disease and will be replaced by a 12-foot concolor fir that eventually will grow to about 60 feet.

“It’s in rough shape,” said Michael A. Lumbis, a senior planner with the city of Watertown.

A community effort took root in 1987 when a small group of local leaders decided to plant an evergreen on Public Square that would serve as “a living Christmas tree,” Mr. Lumbis said.

Former Mayor T. Urling Walker, horticulturist William J. Monnat and barber Larry W. Benson were instrumental in the project’s fundraising efforts. The Watertown Daily Times also was involved.

The group recently agreed that it would be best to replace the ailing blue spruce.

Suffering from the fungal disease Rhizoshaera needle cast, many of the tree’s needles on the lower branches have turned brown in recent years. Some branches have become so damaged, they had to be removed.

The group considered trying to save the tree. But its treatment “would be pretty expensive and would have to be done several times a year,” Mr. Lumbis said.

It saddens him because “it has been a source of community pride,” he said. City Department of Public Works crews will cut the tree down soon.

The new fir tree planting will be the major attraction of this year’s Arbor Day festivities Friday. The concolor fir will be planted west of the Public Square fountain and will serve as the city’s official holiday tree.

The new tree will be better suited for the north country’s changing climate, Mr. Walker said.

“The health of trees are like people,” Mr. Walker said. “They get sick. Sometimes they get better and sometimes they don’t.”

Planted in 1987, the blue spruce has a rich history. As Mr. Lumbis tells it, Mr. Benson planted the seed for the idea. He often looked out his barbershop window on Public Square and thought it would be a good location for a Christmas tree.

But it wasn’t until four years later, after it had grown large enough, that it became the city’s official Christmas tree, Mr. Lumbis said.

The tradition has grown to an annual holiday parade and tree lighting. The mammoth display also features smaller trees decorated with thousands of lights synchronized to a variety of holiday songs.

The holiday parade will continue.

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