The first tree planted by the newly-re-instituted Paonia Tree Board to celebrate National Arbor Day was cut down just as its spring buds were beginning to swell.
The 7-foot tall sensation box elder tree was planted last April at Apple Valley Park in memory of military veteran, volunteer firefighter and Paonia police officer Bill Hart. Hart lost his life to cancer in 2017. A small, temporary plaque was placed at the base of the tree.
Last Thursday, former town trustee and tree board member Dave Bradford stopped by the park to see if the tree had survived its first winter. He discovered that someone had made one clean cut just below the branches and the upper part of the tree leaning against its fence enclosure.
"Someone went to a lot of effort to vandalize it," wrote Bradford in an email reporting the incident.
Paonia residents Jakki Taylor and Constantine Hirschfeld donated the money to purchase the tree. In a Facebook comment, Taylor called the act "thoughtless and vicious..."
Tree board chair Paula Martin said the vandalism is "sad, especially with the time and energy put into planting the first tree." The tree board put a lot of effort into having the town again recognized as a Tree City USA by the Arbor Day Foundation, said Martin. "Planting the tree was the tangible form of that recognition. Our intent was to beautify and add to the community."
The tree board has no plans to replace the tree at this time, added Martin. The tree board is currently focusing on an April 26 Arbor Day tree planting ceremony at Lee's Park.
For Hart's family and friends, the tree represented "a nice place to go to and remember Bill," said Hart's widow, Samira Hart, a former tree board member who now serves as a town trustee. Last Father's Day, Hart said, the family went to Apple Valley Park and placed peonies at the base of the tree. "To dishonor his memory is disgraceful," said Hart.
The Paonia Police Department is asking anyone with information on the incident to call 970-527-4822. "We have no leads at this time," said Police Chief Neil Ferguson.
(Reporter Tamie Meck recently submitted her resignation from the tree board. Applications to fill the vacancy are being accepted at Paonia Town Hall.)