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Landmark Tree Downed After Storm Creates New Heartache



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Peggy Lee Fillion looked across the front yard of the home she and her husband Gary own in Sandy Hook one morning last week and all she could do was shake her head.

“I am so upset,” she said, looking over a row of tiny stumps. That was all that was left of eight spruce trees, which for years provided a natural wall between traffic on Underhill Road and the western side of the Fillion home.

The trees were taken down as part of cleanup efforts following Tropical Storm Isaias.

The worst part was, the spruces hadn’t even been damaged in the August 4 storm. The spruce trees, the Fillions said, had to be taken down so that a crane could be put into place to remove a huge oak on their property that had been damaged.

That tree, which the Fillions believe may have been the largest oak in town, was stabilized before the storm. Cables and webbing were already wound around one section of the trunk, dressings from work done a few years ago. A deep crack near some of its largest branches further weakened the trunk, putting the tree at risk of falling. Had that happened, the Fillion home would have been destroyed.

It was a beautiful tree. With a trunk that was at least 4½ feet diameter, the oak towered over the 1,300 square foot ranch the couple has lived in for just shy of two decades. At the base of the tree is a separate outbuilding, Gary’s Man Cave, according to a sign on that building’s east side.

“The tree has had its ups and downs,” Gary Fillion said August 11. One week after the storm, Fillion was preparing for the arrival of a tree crew that would remove the magnificent tree.

“It had some work done years ago, so it has cables supporting its trunk,” he said. “It drops so many leaves, we spend about $300 for raking every fall, but it’s worth it.

“In the summer its canopy is huge. It provides an unbelievable amount of shade,” Fillion added.

The Fillion home is also right on Lake Zoar, near the sand bar. When talking to boaters, the Fillions often use the oak as a landmark.

“I can’t tell you how many times people have asked about getting to the sandbar,” Gary said. “When I ask them if they know where the big tree on the hill is, they always know where I’m talking about. This tree stands well above all others around it.”

The tree was also easily noticed from I-84. The highways eastbound lanes run just about 100 feet from where the tree used to stand.

Down To The Trunk

By August 19, just a large section of the trunk was still standing outside the home.

Tree crews from Southbury Tree spent three days working on the tree last week, Gary Fillion said. They have to return with a 40-ton crane to finish the job.

“They were able to knock down the whole canopy and all the branches,” Gary said, “but they left the trunk because the equipment on site wasn’t big enough to handle the trunk.”

As it was, some of the oak’s branches were “bigger than many people’s trees,” he said.

The tree crew estimates the tree is between 150 and 200 years old, Gary said.

“We won’t know until the rest of the tree comes down,” he added.

The loss of the tree has already created a change inside Fillion’s man cave.

“I was inside yesterday, and now because of the lack of the canopy, there was moisture condensing on the roof, so I’m going to have to get a ridge vent installed so that it can breathe a little better,” he said.

The whole incident has been very emotional for both of the Fillions, Gary said.

“The whole character of the house has changed,” he mentioned. “The whole front of the house, everyone who walks along the street here — and a lot of people down here do a lot of walking — now have a better view of the house.”

When they stand up to elements, trees provide protection. They offer shade. They are silent sentries that are become part of one’s familiar surroundings.

The Fillions know that, but they are also mourning the loss of a grand planting that has been around since at least 1870. The National Weather Service issued its first weather forecast that year. The tree was older than this newspaper, which was founded in June 1877.

“We’re moving along,” Gary said this week. “We’re trying to get over this. We’ll do some replanting in the fall, when it’s more suitable for that, but it’s still tough to lose that tree.”

Webbing and cables that had been protecting the trunk of a mature oak on the northern side of the Fillion property in Sandy Hook were not enough to protect the tree from Tropical Storm Isaias earlier this month. Further damage to the tree on August 4 meant the tree needed to be taken down, alleviating the danger of it falling onto a private home. —Bee Photos, Hicks
Sandy Hook resident Gary Fillion stands in his driveway early on the morning of August 11, a few hours before a tree crew arrived to begin removing the oak tree to the north of his home.
A row of spruce trees to the west of the Fillion home had to be taken out before the crane used by Southbury Tree could move into place last week. The loss of the spruces was not initially expected when Peggy Lee and Gary Fillion learned the huge oak on the right would have to be removed following storm damage.
By August 13, the oak had been reduced to its trunk and a few major branches. A 40-ton crane will be brought in to complete the removal, according to homeowner Gary Fillion.
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