Monday October 22, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON -- Everyone in town knows The Big Tree.

The Big Tree, as some call it, is a 220-year-old, 105-foot-high sycamore. It sits almost in the road on Route 7 just north of the town itself. Right next to the McDonald's restaurant.

It's called The Big Tree because people trying to direct tourists or out-of-towners to various businesses and roads in that area usually start the description thus: "OK, you know where that Big Tree is? Right next to McDonald's?"

The Big Tree is referred to, by height and girth, in a catalog of the largest sycamores in New England. Many have actual names, like the Narragansett Tree in Greenfield, or Big Boy in Simsbury, Conn. In Great Barrington, it goes by a less-formal name -- The Big Tree.

Kieran McCabe knows where The Big Tree is. A longtime resident of Great Barrington, he would probably describe himself as pro-ecology. In other words, McCabe is one of those tree-huggers.

So a few weeks ago, McCabe noticed that The Big Tree wasn't looking too good.

"There were some dead and dying branches in places," he observed. "The tree was looking a little disheveled."

McCabe is an older gentleman. He knew he wasn't about to climb 100 feet up The Big Tree and pare its branches and, if you will, spruce it up. But he knew a few people who might do it.

The issue, as he discovered, was that one cannot just walk up to a tree on state property and start working on it. There are permissions to obtain and clearances to sign. Red tape, in other words.

McCabe went to the town, first, who referred him to the state Department of Trans portation. They were OK with the work, but The Big tree is, well, a big tree. Someone had to make sure the tree workers, whose trucks would be spending some time parked on Route 7, wouldn't get hit. So McCabe went to the police department.

He was pleased by the support of Police Chief William Walsh Jr., who agreed to provide an officer to direct traffic.

The work was carried out by Haupt Tree Co. For free, in case local taxpayers are wondering.

"It's a community service, and we're part of the community, so we're glad to be of service," said Eric Haupt, owner of the company. "And it's a beautiful tree."

Haupt said there were plans in the works to work on the tree on Arbor Day, but he agreed to do the work this past Wed nesday. The job involved pruning the dead wood, he said.

"But overall, it's in excellent shape," said Haupt. "Our records indicate that the last time any work was done was by our company in 2006."

That work also was performed at no charge.

"I would say that, as traumatic an environment as it's in, the tree looks pretty good," he said.

Haupt was referring to the tree's proximity to Route 7 and the associated exposure to cars and car exhaust.

"It's a beautiful tree," agreed David Coons, a representative for the state DOT, who was on site Wednesday to watch the work. "It's seen a lot in 200 years."

"I remember several years ago, someone tacked a Tag Sale sign to the tree," he said. "I was furious. I tore it down and told the police."

To reach Derek Gentile:
dgentile@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6251
On Twitter: @DerekGentile