2012-11-23 / Front Page

South Portland is go-to place for Christmas trees

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


One city employee, who operated the crane that suspended the tree in the air after it was cut down, got into the holiday spirit. (Jack Flagler photo) One city employee, who operated the crane that suspended the tree in the air after it was cut down, got into the holiday spirit. (Jack Flagler photo) SOUTH PORTLAND – Three decades ago, when Maryanne Simpson lived on Highland Avenue, she and her husband decided to plant a blue spruce to celebrate the birth of their son Nick, the only boy of their four children.

Nick Fogg has since moved out of state and is turning 33 in February. Simpson moved out of her home years ago and, in 1995, Jennifer and Alan Betters moved in. Through all the change, the blue spruce in front of the house at 196 Highland Ave. continued to grow.

That is, until, Thursday, Nov. 15, when a crew from Portland Parks and Recreation came to cut the tree down and drive it over the bridge to Monument Square, where it will be lit up by 3,000 LED lights this holiday season.

Armed with doughnuts and coffee on the chilly fall morning, a crowd of about a dozen of the Betters’ family and friends watched the city workers, including a crane operator dressed in a full Santa costume, bring down the 50-foot 6,000-pound blue spruce.


Santa will take some time out from his busy season delivering gifts and operating heavy machinery to make an appearance at the lighting ceremony in Portland. (Jack Flagler photo) Santa will take some time out from his busy season delivering gifts and operating heavy machinery to make an appearance at the lighting ceremony in Portland. (Jack Flagler photo) Jennifer Betters, who had been up since 3 a.m. that morning because she was too nervous and excited to sleep, said she wasn’t too sad to see the tree go down. When her family moved in, it was about 20 feet shorter and didn’t present much of a problem. But now, her 15-year-old daughter Alexis is trying to learn to drive with an enormous tree blocking her vision when she tries to pull her car out onto busy Highland Avenue.

Maryanne Simpson still lives in the area, around the corner on Cooper Street.

“I’ve just been amazed. We drive by, or walk by with my grandchildren every so often, and I say, ‘I can’t believe it got that tall,’” Simpson said.

Portland’s Downtown District puts out a notice every fall asking area residents to get in touch if they have a tree on their property that might be a fit in Monument Square. City Arborist Jeff Tarling, who works as a steward for all the trees in Portland’s various parks, is charged with the yearly task of finding the right tree. He said he got a few submissions from Portland and the surrounding towns, but nothing “really great.”

Tarling lives in South Portland and had his eye on the tree on Highland Avenue for a while. He stopped by one day to ask the owners if they’d be willing to part with it, but it was a friend of Alan Betters he talked to in the driveway that day, not the owner himself.

Alan Betters said after a few games of phone tag, he was able to get in touch with Tarling.

“I said ‘If you guys want it and you think it’s the right one, go ahead and take it,’” he said.

This is the second year in a row the Monument Square Christmas tree has come from South Portland. Last year, it was brought over Casco Bay Bridge from Evans Street. Shaw Brothers Construction of Gorham donated the flatbed truck that transported the tree this year, and a crew of about a dozen Portland Parks and Recreation employees brought it down.

The lighting ceremony for the tree will take place at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23 in downtown Portland. The annual event features performances by the Maine State Ballet and musician Rick Charette, and a “special guest” will arrive on a Portland fire truck before the lights on the tree are turned on.

Will Ethridge, marketing and communications manager for Portland’s Downtown District, said finding the right tree for the ceremony isn’t as easy as it may sound.

“It has to look good from all angles because it’s not like a tree for your house when you can put the not so great side in the corner of your room,” Ethridge said.

The Betters family followed the flatbed to Portland on Thursday to see their tree go up in Monument Square. Jennifer Betters said she’s excited to plant a garden in her front yard that won’t have sunlight blocked by the enormous pine, and backing her car out onto the busy street will be a whole lot easier.

However, the family is planning to plant another tree to replace the one that’s gone. Until it grows, Jennifer Betters said there is going to be one small downside of her family’s decision to donate their tree.

“We’re not going to be able to say we’re the house with the big pine tree in front of it anymore,” she said.

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