The Charlottesville Albemarle Airport (CHO) is expanding its security footprint to fence in a treasured tree from Thomas Jefferson's time. But the increased security will block public access to the popular spot for photographers and tree-lovers.
The Earlysville White Oak is the second biggest tree of its kind in Virginia. It is 250 to 300 years old and is a popular place for people to stop and take pictures - but the tree is along the airport's runway approach.
Crews are currently fencing in the field surrounding the oak. 'No Trespassing' signs have been posted, but CHO admits it rarely enforced that for people wanting to take pictures or admire the tree. That's become a liability and security issue for the expanding airport.
The Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards say it's a shame the view won't remain unrestricted.
"It's really sad that something this valuable to a community is inaccessible," said Robin Hayes, member of the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards.
The airport says the fence will include signs with contact information for people who want inside the secure area to see the tree close-up.
"We have also had people climb to the top of it and try to get a picture taken that way, so the fact it's inside a fence line allows us a little more secure environment for those photographers," said Jason Burch, Charlottesville Albemarle Airport spokesperson.
The airport says the fence protects the tree from damage and its property from liability.
"We're going to try to keep it as open as we possibly can. In fact, we feel with that fence around the tree, it's providing extra security so we'll always have a tree to take pictures of," said Burch.
There have been concerns that the tree would be cut down after the airport runway extension forced the demolition of a historic church. Burch said the airport has no intention of cutting the tree down.
The Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards said they're grateful the airport is protecting the tree.