Power saws in hand, volunteers cleared trees at Oakland Cemetery in Sag Harbor on Monday to protect the headstones and in turn the village’s history.
Launching an initiative called Oaks for Oakland, dozens of representatives from tree companies had volunteered their time to trim and cut down oaks that were in poor health. The volunteers most likely performed $100,000 worth of work on Monday alone, according to local landscape architect Edmund Hollander, who helped spearhead the initiative.
Mr. Hollander, who is a member of the Sag Harbor Tree Committee, said that trees in the cemetery blow over easily in storms, and their branches fall down, irreparably damaging the headstones and monuments. “They are representational of the history of Sag Harbor, and if we start to lose that, we start to lose the soul of Sag Harbor,” said Mr. Hollander, adding that many of the people buried in Oakland Cemetery played important roles in the community, such as whaling captain Stephen Howell and Captain David Hand.
Mr. Hollander added that, while the current building moratorium in Sag Harbor is meant to preserve the architecture and character of the village, Oaks for Oakland will “restore the historic soul of the village.”
The declining health of many oak trees had been a concern to Mr. Hollander, as well as for Neil Slevin, a Sag Harbor resident who also helped lead the effort, for some time. “I guess we were walking through there and it was clear that the cemetery, while incredibly important, it is privately owned and it really hasn’t had the care, love and maintenance it needs,” Mr. Hollander said.
On Monday, as he walked one of the cemetery’s dirt paths, Mr. Hollander noted that Oaks for Oakland is one historic preservation initiative that no one has objected to thus far.
Sag Harbor Village Mayor Sandra Schroeder supports the movement and was at the cemetery most of Monday as well. She said they had to turn down volunteers who offered to help the cause, even if they knew how to use a saw. “You know, it’s D-Day for the oak trees,” she said. “Well, for the dead ones anyway.
“It was really taking a look and really knowing how badly it is needed,” she continued. “It is going to be wonderful.”
A total of 21 trees were knocked down on Monday and cleaned up on Tuesday, and over the next two years, they could be replaced with as many as 50 to 100 trees, Mr. Hollander said. Once the branches were down, some of the wood was chipped right there, while some was taken away to be used as firewood.
Oaks for Oakland has the support of most of Sag Harbor’s civic groups, including the Sag Harbor Tree Fund, Save Sag Harbor and the Sag Harbor Partnership, as well as the Oakland Cemetery Board of Directors. A total of 17 different tree companies helped cut down the trees, coming from Southampton, Sag Harbor, East Hampton and Amagansett. Conca D’oro supplied 30 pizzas on Monday and Tuesday for the volunteers.
“It is a pretty remarkable circumstance where the different members of the community realize the value that Oakland has as an important historical component to the village of Sag Harbor,” Mr. Hollander said.