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Murrysville considers Amish contractors to trim iconic tree sign

| Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Evan Sanders | Trib Total Media
A sign intended to create a memorable impression of the town — MURRYSVILLE made entirely of spruce trees atop a hill above Route 22 — is high maintenance for town leaders, who are looking for a cost-effective way to keep the sign trimmed. It’s now overgrown, and now council is exploring whether to bring in local crews of Amish to clip the arborvitae so people again may see the sign, which was planted in 1932.
Evan Sanders | Trib Total Media
A sign intended to create a memorable impression of the town -– MURRYSVILLE made entirely of spruce trees atop a hill above Route 22 -- is high maintenance for town leaders, who are looking for a cost-effective way to keep the sign trimmed. It’s now overgrown, and council is exploring whether to bring in local crews of Amish workers to clip the arborvitae so people again may see the sign, planted in 1932. Photographed on Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014.

Goats were a no-go, and now Murrysville officials are considering turning to the Amish to help tame the community's iconic tree sign visible from Route 22.

The 850-foot sign — which spells Murrysville in capital letters with spruce trees — has become so overgrown that several letters are indistinguishable. Murrysville officials want the topiary to return to top shape within the next year.

“We believe if it's going to stay as a tree sign, it needs some work done,” said Diane Heming, finance director for Murrysville.

Planted in the early 1930s by Boy Scouts, the sign made entirely of arborvitae has grown to more than 150 feet tall. The sign has been featured in the “Guinness Book of World Records” and on Ripley's Believe it or Not. At one time, it was touted as the largest arboreal sign in the world.

For nearly 40 years, the Sportsmen and Landowners Alliance of Murrysville has been responsible for maintenance on the trees. But the group's membership has aged, said Carl Patty, the group's president, and has had difficulty finding volunteers to navigate the steep ground.

“We need some younger blood, because that's a very steep hill and a large expanse of ground,” Patty said.

Murrysville Chief Administrator Jim Morrison said he has been unable to reach a North Hills goat purveyor who recently let a gaggle of goats loose along West Penn Park in the Polish Hill section of Pittsburgh, to chomp through invasive plants.

“The goats were cheap, but there were a lot of logistics to keep them on the hillside,” he said. “Amish contractors seem like a logical choice.”

But there's one catch so far, Patty said. The Amish workers do not own power tools. Due to the group's spiritual and cultural practices, many members of the Amish community do not use electricity or gas-powered machines.

Patty said his group has some power tools that the workers could use during their slow work season in October and November.

The Amish contractors would trim the trees and clear overgrown brush.

Morrison said he has reservations about trimming the trees, but agreed something needs to be done.

The municipality allocates $2,500 annually for maintenance of the monstrous sign. Morrison plans to earmark $10,000 from the 2015 capital budget as a backup plan in case the Amish workers don't end up trimming the sign.

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-871-2365, or dkurutz@tribweb.com.

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