Winter Park retires Christmas tree weakened by hurricane, old age
WINTER PARK — After bringing holiday cheer to Central Park for nearly three decades, Winter Park’s Christmas tree will remain dark from now on.
Gashed by Hurricane Irma’s winds and its branches drooping from old age, the 30-foot Southern red cedar can no longer support the thousands of lights and ornaments hung from it with care each year.
So the annual tree-lighting celebration this year will feature an animated digital tree in the park south of Morse Boulevard, city spokeswoman Clarissa Howard said Thursday.
Brittany Lyne has lived in the city for the past five years and looks forward to Winter Park’s annual holiday display.
“Winter Park is such a tradi-
tional community with so much history, so I think ... it’s kind of sad that we’ll see the end of an era with the tree being the center of the community for the holidays,” Lyne said. “[But] having a digital tree may become a cool thing … it may even become a landmark attraction during the holidays.”
The cedar, about 40 years old and in the park for 29 years, won’t be cut down and instead will remain a place where families can lounge in its shade.
City officials have known for a while that the cedar’s end was near as a Christmas decoration. In recent years, they braced it with wiring and metal brackets to help support the lights and ornaments.
“In reality, through the past several years it hasn’t been that perfectly shaped Christmas tree that we’re all used to,” Howard said. “So it already has had some years of decline — but Irma made it more visible.”
The tree was donated to the city by now-retired WFTV-Channel 9 news anchor Bob Opsahl. It was originally planted in his front yard. He’s hosted the annual tree-lighting since 1988.
“It was such a good feeling to donate a tree to a city,” Opsahl said Thursday. “Every year when I went back to light it, it was wonderful.”
The 30-foot digital tree will be made of support poles and wires with 5,000 LED lights sequenced to holiday music.
“It will have a programmed light feature that we’re really excited about,” said Chamber of Commerce CEO Betsy Gardner Eckbert.
In preparation for the cedar’s retirement, the city planted a new tree several years ago. But in a Grinch-like move, it has grown on a slight diagonal and appears lopsided.
So now Winter Park is in the market for a new Christmas tree, but it doesn’t have a timeline.
“We haven’t found that perfect tree,” Howard said. “We want to find the perfect tree for Central Park.”
firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5002
Winter Park’s tree will be replaced by a digital version this year.
Visitors are dusted with soap bubbles to simulate snow during the annual Christmas-tree lighting ceremony in Winter Park.