South Jersey community's history, heritage carved into Oak tree

BUENA VISTA, N.J. (WPVI) -- Brian Ackley is a man on a mission. The talented chainsaw artist has been working 20 feet in the air, turning a historic 235-year-old Oak tree into a masterpiece.

The mighty Oak, the centerpiece of SawMill Park in Buena Vista's Richland section, died last year. But residents didn't want that to be the end of the story.

So instead of chopping it down, the limbs and trunk of the local landmark will tell the story of the proud community celebrating its 150th anniversary next year.

"It really felt like a piece of living history, and we didn't want it to not live on," said Mayor Chuck Chiarello (D-Buena Vista Township).

"I grew up here. This is where I was born and raised, and this tree has always been the center point of everything," said John Armato (D-Committeeman).

"This is the most massive tree I have ever carved, period," said Brian Ackley, chainsaw artist.

Using three different size chainsaws, Ackley is carving images of Buena Vista. A bonnet-wearing woman at the old train station. The general store. The volunteers. An eagle, part of the town symbol.

"This says a lot about our community, all the people in our community, what they did, what they do. Margate has the elephant, and Buena Vista Township now has the tree," said Steve Martinelli (D-Committeeman).

Students from Buena High stopped by Friday to look at the work.
"I've never seen this before. It's really amazing what he can do with a tool like that," said Judith Leshner, art teacher.

The Oak was one of the only trees in the area that survived a sawmill operating here in the 1800s. It's always been a local treasure that people want to preserve.

"I work by the seat of my pants," said Ackley.

Without a blueprint and showered in sawdust, Ackley says holding a chainsaw over his head for eight or nine hours a day isn't easy.

"My body is protesting, but I'm not listening to it," said Ackley.

The project is being paid for with donations. When it's finished, the tree mural will be oiled and preserved - a unique monument to the rural town's proud history.
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