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BUENA VISTA TWP - The township needs your help to preserve a piece of its history that predates the township itself.

The giant white oak tree that served as a focal point and landmark at Saw Mill Park in Richland Village died last year after 235 years of life.

Despite the township’s effort to save the tree and determine what exactly led to its demise, the tree died and the cause has remained a mystery. Rather than cut down and remove the tree, the township is raising funds to not only preserve the giant white oak as a landmark but turn it into a piece of historical art.

They are working with chainsaw artist Brian Ackley of Ackmonster’s Chainsaw Art in Bridgeton to make a carving in the trunk that would reflect life in the township during the past 150 years and pay tribute to the magnificence of the tree.

The project, named the Sesquicentennial Tree Carving Project, comes just in time for the township’s 150th anniversary in 2017.

“The tree is no longer alive, but it is still a huge presence even as it is today,” said Mayor Chuck Chiarello. “It is still standing, but the leaves are gone. It is such a prominent feature of Saw Mill Park. We would like to save at least the memory of the tree.”

The tree first showed visible signs of decline in the spring of 2015 when its leaves never fully formed. The township worked with three tree surgeons, the Rutgers Cooperative Extension in Mays Landing and even used a specially formulated fertilizer that was donated from a company in Oklahoma, but despite their efforts the tree remains bare this year.

Chiarello estimates the total cost of the project to be about $12,000, and he is determined to raise the necessary funds so that no tax dollars are used for the project. That’s why he set up a Go Fund Me account and is asking area businesses and residents to help.

The design will feature carvings around the entire trunk of the tree. Ideas include a tractor for the farming industry, a chicken for the former poultry industry, deer to represent the abundant wildlife in the township, a soldier, a locomotive, an eagle and the township’s logo. The trunk will be sealed and preserved with polyurethane, and a fence around the tree will help keep it protected.

The lights that currently shine on the tree each evening will continue to light the transformed landmark. Also, six smaller white oak trees will be planted behind the tree. As they grow, they will form an amphitheater where the 235-year-old white oak will be featured, said Chairello.

Eventually, the township hopes to install a walkway around the tree; most likely the township will sell engraved pavers to raise funds for that portion of the project.

Preliminary work to remove excess branches will begin in October. The largest and strongest branches will remain intact. The Ackmonster plans to start his work in November. Chiarello said the artist even offered to invite township school classes for field trips to see him in action.

Chiarello also hopes to find a use for the branches that will be removed. He said hopefully someone will do something creative with the wood so that people might want to purchase and keep it.

“It’s going to be a once in a lifetime thing for the town. This will be a very unique project in celebration of keeping the tree alive in spirit,” said Chairello.

The project has gained support from the Buena Vista Township Special Events Committee and the Buena Historical Society. Also Committeeman John Armato has been instrumental throughout the project.

“You have to have the support of everyone to make something work,” said Chairello.

To make a donation, visit the Historic Tree Carving in Buena Vista page on Go Fund Me or send a check or money order payable to the BVT Special Events Committee, PO Box 605, Buena NJ 08310.

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