One of country's largest sugar maples removed for safety

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Micum Davis is suspended in the air while working to cut down a sugar maple tree, in Kensington, N.H., Monday, April 5, 2021. The 100-foot-tall tree, believed planted in the late 1700s, was cut down for safety reasons. (AP Photo/Michael Casey)

KENSINGTON, N.H. – A sugar maple tree that has watched over a New Hampshire home for more than 200 years and was one of the largest of its kind in the United States is coming down because of safety concerns.

As a small crowd looked on Monday, arborist Micum Davis started trimming the crown of the tree in Kensington with the goal of taking it apart by the end of the day. Given the tree has a crown stretching 100 feet (30 meters) across, a diameter of more than 7 feet (2 meters) and stands 100 feet tall, the job required a crane to haul away branches as Davis cut them off with a chainsaw. A wood chipper howled in the background.

The tree has won plenty of accolades over the years. It has been recognized by the New Hampshire Big Tree Program and appears in the National Register of Champion Trees. It is considered the second largest sugar maple after one in Virginia, according to Rose Tileson, the manager of American Forests’ National Champion Trees program.

Janet Buxton, whose family has owned property where the tree stands since 1954, proudly showed off a certificate she received touting its size.

“It's been the guardian of us. I don't know what to say. We grew up with it. It's been special to the whole family,” Buxton said, sitting at her kitchen table. “We're all sad to see it go but we have thoroughly enjoyed it for the 67 years we have been here.”

Davis estimated the tree was at least 240 years old and is one of two on the property planted at the same time. They are known as wedding trees because they were planted on each side of the home's doorway, a sign that it might have been a gift to newlyweds. The other maple remains.

The maple being cut down has as survived plenty of storms over the years and provided a place for birds including a whip-poor-will whose calls could be heard many nights and a recent owl family that made a home in the trunk. Squirrels, Buxton said, used the tree to get into the family's attic.

But a bout of recent storms with strong winds proved too much. Cracks formed in the trunk and it became clear that the tree had become a safety hazard, with the potential for branches to fall onto the house. There was also widespread rot in the tree and Braxton began to hear the tree creaking.