Win­ter Park re­tires Christ­mas tree weak­ened by hur­ri­cane, old age

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Ryan Gille­spie Staff Writer

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.”

ry­gille­spie@or­lan­dosen­ 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.

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