Tree theft brings community together

Illustration by Rick Holland.

Police are looking for the thieves who wrecked and robbed a Christmas tree operation in the Town of Ulster which raises money for a local Boy Scout camp. But, Scout officials say the dastardly crime has failed to dampen their holiday spirit and, in fact, has generated an outpouring of goodwill from the community.

“My heart sunk,” said Ray Braun, executive director of the Boy Scouts of America’s Rip Van Winkle Council of the phone call he received at 2 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning informing him that the Scout-run Christmas tree stand in the Staples Plaza in the Town of Ulster had been vandalized. “What an empty feeling.”

According to Town of Ulster Police Chief Anthony Cruise, cops on routine patrol first noticed the damage to the tree stand, including lights that had been ripped down and broken wooden frames, around 1:30 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 22. According to Cruise, cops initially believed the incident was simply vandalism. It wasn’t until later that day when Scouts, parents and troop leaders showed up to take stock of the damage that they realized 60 of about 750 Balsam firs on the lot had been stolen. The trees, Braun said, were worth about $3,000 to the fundraising operation which helps offset costs for Camp Tri-Mount in East Jewett. Cruise said detectives were reviewing security camera footage from around the plaza and seeking witnesses who may have noticed anything unusual. The theft, Cruise said, would have required a sizable vehicle or large trailer to transport the trees.


“This wasn’t some guys with a couple of pickup trucks,” said Cruise.

But, even as the police investigation continued, Braun said, the Scouts were picking up the pieces and getting on with the business at hand, selling trees to make money so that no one would be turned away from Camp Tri-Mount for inability to pay. According to Braun, about 20 Scouts and adults showed up early Friday morning to rebuild and run the site.

“It was really wonderful to see the way they all came together and pulled themselves up by the bootstraps,” said Braun of the recovery efforts. “After all of that damage, by 9 a.m. they were selling trees again.”

And, as word of the theft spread, donations began coming in. One man showed up at the tree sale to hand Braun $500, another $200. Then Adams Fairacre Farms, which maintains its own Christmas tree operation just up Route 9W from stepped in. The local grocery donated a total of 40 trees, 20 from their Town ofUlsterlocation and another 20 from aPoughkeepsieoutlet. According to Assistant Manager Tim Scott, nursery manager Jason Becker came up with the idea to make good on the Scouts’ loss. Becker also reached out to Newburgh-based Alder Wholesale Florist to donate another 20 trees.

“We’re a community-oriented store,” said Scott. “The community supports us, so we do whatever we can to support the community. This just seemed like something worthwhile.”

At the Boy Scouts tree sale, Braun said he’s been struck not just by the outpouring of support which, he says, “makes me feel like Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life,” but by the lack of “vindictiveness” expressed by the Scouts towards the tree thieves. Instead of revenge, Braun said, the young volunteers at the tree sale simply want to get into the spirit of the season and move on from an ugly, though temporary, setback.

“[The theft] is just proof that we need more Scouting, we can’t be complacent, we have to build more character,” said Braun. “It’s taking a dark black cloud and finding a silver lining.”