Needham Blue Tree to have final lighting in good company

For six decades, Needham’s Blue Tree has enamored residents, attracted tourists and at times piqued the interest of airplane passengers overhead. This year should be no exception. But as hundreds gather Saturday for the annual illumination, a certain nostalgia will likely fill the air. Although the blue lights will live on past this winter, the sugar maple on which they’ve hung for so many years will not.

Needham Children's Center kindergarten teacher Denise Linden helps (from left) her student Brooke Donohue, and pre-kindergarden students, William Teachout, and Paige Rollauer make lanterns out of plastic bottles for Needham's upcoming Luminary Stroll.

Needham Children’s Center kindergarten teacher Denise Linden helps (from left) her student Brooke Donohue, and pre-kindergarden students, William Teachout, and Paige Rollauer make lanterns out of plastic bottles for Needham’s upcoming Luminary Stroll.

The tree is rotting, housing cavities more than 12-inches wide. It’s dangerously close to being labeled a safety hazard in need of immediate removal, a diagnosis the town has been working to prevent over the last decade through soil enhancement and other palliative measures.

Fake branches that have been used for 25 years to make the tree look fuller are now becoming even more necessary as ailing limbs begin to break off.

“It’s highly at risk at this point,” said parks and forestry superintendent Ed Olsen. “You can’t just let a tree fail on a town common.”

Needham Children's Center pre-kindergartener Ellie Kamp, holds up the lantern she made with the help of kindergarten teacher Denise Linden.

Needham Children’s Center pre-kindergartener Ellie Kamp, holds up the lantern she made with the help of kindergarten teacher Denise Linden.

By happenstance, a daylong amalgam of holiday events will bookend the final lighting of this tree, which will be replaced with another sugar maple over the winter.

“Needham Lights” blends activities historically held on different weekends: the Blue Tree lighting; the holiday business stroll and entertainment night sponsored by the Needham Business Association and Needham Merchants Association; and the Community Center of Needham’s annual Luminary Stroll.

“It really has turned into a townwide event,” said town Economic Development Director Devra Bailin. “The idea is to bring people into the downtown and provide them an opportunity to shop local.”

The hot chocolate stands will open at noon, kicking off the holiday business stroll. Around 40 shops, restaurants and other businesses are offering holiday sales or other perks to those that stop by that day. That includes the new Needham Artists’ Collaborative, opening for the first time this weekend on Chapel Street.

There will be face painting, musical performances, a magic show and other activities throughout the afternoon in Town Hall, leading up to a fire show and visit from Santa after the Blue Tree lighting.

Governor-elect Charlie Baker, a town native, will speak before the final lighting of the tree, and retiring Fire Chief Paul Buckley will flip the switch.

Replacement of the tree is expected to cost upwards of $25,000. The town is planning to acquire as big a tree as is physically possible to pick up and move, Olsen said, but it will still probably be slightly smaller than the original.

Prior to the lighting, the Community Center of Needham is hosting its first luminary parade through the downtown. Children at participating preschools and elementary schools have been making lanterns from plastic bottles over the last couple weeks, to be displayed on the dusk march.

That’s ahead of the group’s annual luminary stroll on Dec. 7, when businesses and residents purchase and place lanterns on their property. They have sold around 19,000 lights in the past. This year the funds will support the group’s Open Gym initiative, which will keep the gym at Pollard Middle School open on a weekly basis for community use through the winter.

“The idea is that we’re renting gym space and making it available just so that kids and parents with their kids can come down and have someplace to go,” said event co-chair Gary DeMaria.

The events merged into one somewhat by accident. The luminary events are usually on the first dark night but there was a conflict that day. And the Blue Tree lighting is usually the weekend after Thanksgiving but organizers thought having it this coming weekend would allow for bigger crowds.

“I’ve been trying for a long time to get as many groups to participate in townwide events, because it makes them a much bigger event,” Bailin said.

“It really is about getting people into the habit of utilizing the downtown.”

 

 

Story courtesy of Jonathan Dame
Photos courtesy of Wicked Local Staff Photo / Sam Goresh
Wicked Local Needham
http://needham.wickedlocal.com/article/20141204/NEWS/141208389

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