BERNARDS — Everyone in Basking Ridge hoping that tree experts will be able to save a 600-year-old tree that's on the critical list.

The iconic white oak — believed to be the oldest in the country — is in the yard of the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church. How long has it stood? When George Washington enjoyed its shade, it was already hundreds of years old.

Jon Klippel, with the church's planning council, says Washington "was traveling from Morristown, down south toward the Princeton area, and found this to be an ideal place to stop on his route."

Klippel says arborists would probably project that white oak trees, if they are healthy and everything goes right, to be anywhere from 300 to 450, "and if you are beyond 450, you have really done well."

He says the church has been giving it really intense supervision for the past century.

Around 1924, when church members noticed that the tree was struggling a little bit, Klippel says, tree care surgeons came in and provided some careful, strategic pruning— and then they took care of rot that they saw in the center core of the trunk. He says they hollowed out an area that four men were able to stand in, and then they filled that with concrete.

The white oak has, over the years, been a vital part of the community. Klippel says it was the inspiration for the name of a grade school. It is the inspiration for a street in town, the name of a local nursery school, and even Basking Ridge's local town emblem has two oak leaves on it.

But the oak's upper limbs are not producing leaves and it's not looking good.

"It did not push out leaves in the upper area, or the crown. It has leaves on the lower tier. We are hoping that that represents some degree of vitality," Klippel says.

According to Klippel, "we are making assessments. We are getting some test results back, and we are sort of plotting out what our options are."

The locals are keeping their fingers crossed.

Joe Cutter is the afternoon news anchor on New Jersey 101.5.

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