Landmark tree falls in Mingo Creek Park

April 14, 2014
Generations of families have posed for photographs inside the hollow trunk of this giant sycamore tree whose branches came crashing down Sunday in Mingo Creek County Park in Nottingham Township. - Scott Beveridge / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

EIGHTY FOUR – People for generations have taken family photographs inside the hollow trunk of an ancient sycamore tree in Mingo Creek County Park.

There also have been wedding, birthday and graduation parties that made a centerpiece of the nearly 300-year-old tree, which will become firewood after its branches collapsed to the ground Sunday.

“It’s kind of a shame. It will be missed,” said Jeffrey Donahue, superintendent of recreation at the Washington County Parks and Recreation Department.

Fans of the tree expressed sadness Monday on Facebook and at the park, as maintenance workers began to clean up debris.

Marie Osborn of Canonsburg went to the park Monday with a camera to take photos of the debris, saying she first posed inside its trunk when she was 16 years old.

“I’m heartbroken,” Osborn said, adding she once had her two children and later her grandchildren pose for photographs there.

Sycamore trees are popular because of their white branches, as well as the fact they thrive along the banks of rivers and creeks, said Charlie Kirkpatrick, a forester who works in erosion control at the Washington County Conservation District.

“A lot of people like to be along the water,” Kirkpatrick said.

He said sycamore trees can develop hollow trunks for such reasons as genetics, a pest infestation or after a branch has fallen off and invites decay into them.

“The heart of the tree is actually dead matter,” he said. “It could be just old age.”

The county never consulted with a tree expert on the old sycamore, and there are many others in the park with hollow trunks, Donahue said.

County maintenance worker Rick Eberly, who was using a chain saw Monday to remove the fallen branches, said people flocked to the tree for at least six decades.

“It’s a landmark,” Eberly said. “There’s a lot of history here.”

Donahue said the parks department had yet to discuss whether or not the tree trunk will remain standing in the park near shelter 5.

Scott Beveridge is a North Charleroi native who has lived most of his life in nearby Rostraver Township. He is a general assignments reporter focusing on investigative journalism and writing stories about the mid-Mon Valley. He has a bachelor's degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master's from Duquesne University. Scott spent three weeks in Vietnam in 2004 as a foreign correspondent under an International Center for Journalists fellowship.

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