UPDATE 11-20-2019: The Town of Highland Park will carry on with its annual Tree Lighting Ceremony, but at a new tree. According to spokesman Lance Koppa, the lighting will be held on December 5 at the pecan tree immediately to the west of the spot once occupied by the Monarch Pecan Tree, at the intersection of Armstrong Parkway and Preston Road. The festivities begin at 6 pm.
There's dire holiday news coming out of the Park Cities: The huge pecan tree on Armstrong Avenue, which has served as an entry point as well as a centerpiece of Highland Park's holiday traditions, is about to get the axe.
According to a statement from the city of Highland Park, the tree, called the Big Pecan Tree, is sadly on its dying days and must be removed.
"For 150+ years, the Big Pecan Tree has adorned its place on Armstrong Parkway, and grew into a historic and cherished landmark for Highland Park," the statement says.
"While the Big Pecan Tree has proven to be extraordinarily resilient, sadly the tree has reached a point where its removal is necessary to maintain safety for pedestrians and passing motorists," it says.
The tree had a health scare in 2018, when HP's Parks Department said it would work with an arborist to keep it alive as long as possible.
Over the years, the tree became a treasured symbol to HP residents. Located near the intersection of Preston Road, it's been the scene for the town's annual tree lighting ceremony, dating back to 1927.
It also serves as a signpost for visitors who cruise through Highland Park to see the town's stunning holiday light displays.
Randy Johnson, owner of Randy Johnson Organics, an ecological horticulture company that specializes in native plants, says that the tree had to have been pretty resilient to survive so much change.
"One of my earliest childhood memories is going with my parents and my sister to look at the Christmas lights, and that tree was always a foundation," he says. "That tree was probably a native pecan — not like the hybrids they sell these days but a real old-time standard pecan tree that came up on its own — with fantastic genetics to have withstood all the development that has surrounded it."
While the tree was a grand senior at 150 years, pecan trees can live as long as 300 to 400 years, depending on the species. "It's sad to lose another old warrior," Johnson says.
The tree's first stage of removal will begin on Monday, October 21, and it's been synchronized with the collection and preservation of lumber from the tree.
They anticipate that, weather permitting, the process will take three days.
This calls for a candlelight vigil. Or maybe some environmental activists who can strap themselves to the trunk.
The release ends with a quote from Highland Park Mayor Margo Goodwin: "The legacy of the Big Pecan Tree will be preserved in many ways, most notably within its historic connections as a gathering place for the Highland Park community."