Roadside Cedar Cut Down, Family Hopes To Plant New Tree

STAFFORD, Va. (AP) — VDOT crews cut down a popular roadside cedar tree that a Stafford County family had decked out the last two Decembers in Christmas lights, ornaments and colorful garland to the delight of passing motorists.

“Goodbye until next Christmas, little, faithful tree,” Rob Hutchins posted on social media Dec. 30 after taking down this year’s decorations. “You held on to as many decorations as you could through the tough December weather.”

But the 8-foot-tall white cedar couldn’t withstand the saw.

VDOT spokeswoman Kelly Hannon said the cedar had to be removed because it was located within the state right of way behind a guardrail in a zone that “deflects when impacted.” She said that could be a hazard for motorists.

“Trees and other objects located in this deflection zone can affect the ability of guardrail to perform as tested and save lives and are regularly removed as a part of ongoing maintenance activities,” Hannon wrote.

Hutchins and his family first decorated the tree after Thanksgiving in 2021. He was driving to Florida on a business trip when he got word that the tree had been taken down and left by the side of the road. Hutchins received the news before VDOT’s announcement and said he initially suspected vandals had committed the act.

“I’m not going to stop because they took the tree away,” Hutchins said. “It so much reminds me of the actual Grinch story.”

Hannon said VDOT crews had previously spotted the cedar and targeted it for removal but didn’t cut it until the end of the day Jan. 5. After workers cut down the small tree, they left it at the side of the road for the duration of the weekend.

“The truck bed was at capacity holding debris collected earlier in the day, so crews had to return this morning to collect the tree debris from the roadside,” Hannon said.

By the following Monday morning, all that remained at the site of the popular holiday symbol was a few sprinkles of sawdust and glitter. A stump almost level to the ground marked the spot where the tree once grew near a roadside guardrail on Centreport Parkway, just south of Mountain View Drive.

“I feel like the thing’s been there for years and (VDOT) is just now noticing it?” Hutchins said. “We’ve had road crews there doing paving plenty of times over the last two years and nobody’s ever decided to cut that tree down.”

Hartwood Supervisor Darrell English said he visited the site in his district where the tree stood over the weekend after he was notified it had been taken down.

“I’m upset with VDOT for not letting the public know they were going to do this,” English said. “If it really was a safety issue, why wasn’t I notified?”

Hannon said since the tree was “embraced by the community and decorated seasonally,” she regretted VDOT did not provide the public advance notice of the tree’s removal.

“While the removal needed to occur for safety, it should have been scheduled in advance, with sensitivity for its place in recent celebrations,” Hannon wrote. “The debris should have been removed from the roadside at the time it was cut down.”

Hutchins said VDOT’s response surrounding the removal of the tree still left several questions. He said handwritten notes left on the tree by passing motorists this past Christmas were brimming with public support, so he was surprised to learn the tree had been removed.

“What VDOT crew went past there at any point and didn’t notice that it was dressed up like a Christmas tree for a month and decided to come back and pull that thing up?” Hutchins asked.

The tree drew the attention of passing motorists and several media outlets that carried the story this past Christmas season.

“People would stop and take pictures of it, put things on it,” Hutchins said. “To have had it make so many others happy is such a huge bonus.”

Hutchins, a government contractor and a U.S. Navy veteran, said his family first decorated the roadside tree two years ago after his then-15-year-old daughter remarked it “looked like a Christmas tree.”

“A couple of days went by and I was like, let’s go decorate this thing,” Hutchins said. “So we did, and it kind of blew up on (social media).”

Hutchins said he’s now willing to work with VDOT and plant a new tree, in a safe location, for the community to once again enjoy during the Christmas season.

“Let’s figure out from (VDOT) where we can plant a new tree,” Hutchins said. “What’s acceptable and one they won’t cut down again. Let’s put something back.”