After twice serving as the focal point for Columbia County's Christmas celebration, the county's official tree may have lent its limbs to lights for the last time.
Weighed down with ice during the Jan. 26 storm, part of the nearly 30-foot Carolina Sapphire cypress at the Columbia County Justice Center has leaned to the east, leaving a gaping divide in the once-shapely tree.
"It's gone," said Barry Smith, director of Community and Leisure Services for Columbia County. "We've been working at it, trying to work out the best, most economical solution," he said, "It's going to be expensive, whatever we do. It's a shame."
Tree surgeons have studied the evergreen and so far the likely solution seems to be to replace the whole tree, Smith said. No major limbs are broken, but several are so badly bent that it is unlikely the tree could be coaxed into regrowing its conical Christmas-tree shape, he added.
The tree was planted in November 2002 and has been decorated with lights for the county's Christmas in America celebrations in 2002 and 2003. The lighted star from 2003's celebration still is attached to the now-leaning top of the tree.
County Board of Commissioners Chairman Ron Cross, then owner of the company that built the justice center, and George Fuller, owner of Four Seasons Landscaping, donated the $5,000 tree, which was trucked to the site from North Carolina.
Organizers of the Christmas in America celebration, held the first Saturday in December, already had discussed tentative plans to one day move the tree-lighting ceremony to the amphitheater behind the county's new main library. The library is under construction behind the justice center and is expected to be completed early next year; the amphitheater would be built afterward.
Though neither will be available for this year's Christmas ceremony, both are expected to be completed in time for the 2005 celebration.
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