One of New Jersey's most celebrated trees, and perhaps the oldest oak in the state, unexpectedly crashed to the ground earlier this year in the historic city of Salem.

But when one story ends, hundreds of others begin.

This spring, every municipality in the state will receive the gift of a seedling from the famed "Salem Oak," for planting in a location that can hopefully ensure a long and healthy life, and create another legacy.

As luck would have it, the state Department of Environmental Protection collected acorns at the base of the tree just months before it toppled over. From those acorns came nearly 1,200 seedlings that are now being nurtured in the greenhouse at the New Jersey Forest Service Nursery in Jackson Township.

"Generations of New Jerseyans will reap the benefits of this extraordinary planting," said DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe during a surprise video announcement to mayors.

The seedlings will be carefully packaged and shipped to 565 municipalities in April 2020. That month welcomes the 50th anniversary of the state DEP, as well as the 50th anniversary of America's first Earth Day.

The public will be given an opportunity to purchase seedlings, the department said.

"In 50 years, these trees will have removed over 2 million pounds of carbon dioxide from our air, they will conserve over 143 years worth of a household's electricity, and they will reduce the damaging effects of over 27 million gallons of stormwater, and so much more," McCabe said.

The Salem Oak stood more than 100 feet tall, with a crown spanning 104 feet, on West Broadway for more than 500 years — most white oaks last 200 to 300 years. According to DEP, the oak was the only surviving tree from the original forest that covered the land when John Fenwick, the founder of Salem, arrived in 1675. Legend has it Fenwick signed a treaty with Lenni Lenape Native Americans under the oak's branches.

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