For this year’s tree-lighting ceremony at The Thomas Center, staff members removed a 20-foot-tall cedar tree from Northside Park, a well-known obstacle to disc golfers in the area.
Disc golfer Paul Wales explained in an email to the Gainesville City Commission Tuesday that the tree was a staple to the fairway of hole 17. Wales wondered why city staff chose such a prominent tree to the area and expressed concern for the disc-golf tournament this weekend.
“The course will be degraded for the second round,” Wales said in the email.
Steve Phillips, the director of the City’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department, said the tree at Northside was the only suitable tree the staff could find this year.
Phillips said the trees used for the ceremony must have a height of approximately 20 to 30 feet, have no bald spots and must stand alone.
“We’re faced with the challenge to find the perfect tree for the event,” he said. “This one was the closest one we could find, so that’s why it was selected.”
Phillips said the Thomas Center started removing local trees for the tree-lighting ceremony about 10 years ago after a local farmer who grew cedar trees sold his property. Some trees from the Waldo Road Greenway-Depot Avenue Rail-Trail have been removed for this purpose in the past.
Before turning to local parks, Phillips said the team visited nurseries and checked the trees that were previously planted specifically for future tree-lighting ceremonies.
“Unfortunately, we were not able to find any trees that were big enough,” he said.
The tree was moved to the center about a week ago, and a 12-foot-tall cedar tree was planted in its place at Northside Park the following day.
“We got the largest cedar tree that we could possibly find at the nurseries and basically planted it at the same spot,” Phillips said.
Phillips said no user groups at Northside Park were contacted about the removal, but staff is going to have a meeting with the Gainesville Chain Hawks Disc Golf Club this weekend.
“We did find out after the fact that the disc golf group did not like seeing it go because it was like an obstacle course,” he said. “That was an oversight on both of our parts to not discuss that,” he said.
Mayor Lauren Poe could not be reached for comment by time of publication.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.