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South Middleton Township residents are invited to submit nominations for a new program recognizing and protecting significant trees within the township.

On Thursday night, South Middleton Township supervisors finalized a new heritage tree ordinance intended to recognize, protect and heighten appreciation of large, mature trees.

The ordinance encourages South Middleton property owners to voluntarily preserve qualifying trees, while discouraging their removal or damage. Property owners also have an option of citing eligible heritage trees in their deeds to alert others of the distinction.

“All this started when I said, why don’t we protect our champion trees? We just want to recognize our big trees with a little plaque,” supervisor Rick Reighard said.

Reighard said last month that a “huge” sycamore tree at East Springville and Ridge roads would be a good candidate for the new program. The tree was cited as being around 350 years old.

Although the board agreed last month to publicly advertise a proposal for the ordinance, no members of the public commented about the proposal before it was finalized on Thursday.

To qualify for the program, a tree must measure at least 40 inches in diameter, be more than 75 years old, considered of “historical significance,” and several other factors. Tree owners must submit an application to the township for staff review, with final acceptance adopted by the board of supervisors.

Trees that have been admitted into the registry are not eligible for removal without permission from township supervisors.

Upon acceptance into the registry, the township will place a commemorative plaque near recognized trees with an owner’s consent. Owners also will be reimbursed for costs related to desired changes to property deeds.

“I emphasize that this is all voluntary,” supervisor Tom Faley said of property deed alterations relating to the registry.

The ordinance also includes a provision for the township to periodically conduct surveys of heritage and large trees within the municipality for possible inclusion in the registry. Once established, a registry of South Middleton’s heritage trees will be posted on the township’s website.

Township manager Cory Adams compared South Middleton’s planned registry to a similar website maintained by the Pennsylvania Forestry Association. On its website, the state Forestry Association offers a guide, “Big Trees of Pennsylvania,” for sale to the general public. The volume identifies 34 species of trees in the state by definition of circumference, height, average crown spread and location.

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