Self-proclaimed "tree huggers," local officials and concerned residents gathered to formally dedicate the more than 250-year-old red oak tree at the corner of Cedar Lane and Palisade Avenue.
The dedication ceremony marked the culmination of a decades long effort to save the historic tree from being cut down. Last month, the Puffin Foundation announced the tree would be conserved until its natural death and maintained by the county parks department. The Foundation provided funding to cover fees associated with obtaining a conservation easement for the tree.
For a lengthy process fraught with legal maneuvering and even a police response, Friday's dedication ceremony was largely a chance to celebrate how various Teaneck groups came together to finally save the massive oak.
"It is a great occasion to celebrate community,' said State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, whose late husband, Irwin, fought successfully to protect the tree from being torn down to build a parking lot in the 1970s. The tree is dedicated to Irwin and fellow residents who led campaigns to protect it.
Those who spoke at the event described the tree as an important part of life in the township.
Teaneck Creek Conservancy Board Member Anthony Buscetti called the dedication the "utmost celebration of life."
"Only half-kidding my wife and I said if this tree goes, we move," said nearby resident Bob McGrath.
In fact, the tree almost met its demise last summer if not for Wally Cowan, a leader in the effort to protect the tree. While shopping on Cedar Lane, Cowan noticed a tree crew preparing to remove the oak.
He flagged down a police car and word traveled to Chief Robert Wilson and Township Attorney Stanley Turitz. The tree removal crew had not been authorized to do the work on busy Cedar Lane and the former property owner, the Union for Traditional Judaism, agreed to hold off, Cowan recalled at the dedication.
The property was later purchased through bankruptcy auction by congregation Netivot Shalom, who vowed to preserve the tree and worked with the Puffin Foundation to broker the deal.
"People don't understand how close the tree was to coming down that day," said Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin. "It really shows what we can accomplish when people work together."