High in the Idyllwild Christmas Tree, near the star and attaching strings of lights was Jose Flores. The annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony will be held Saturday, Nov. 25. Photo by JP Crumrine

Phyllis Mueller has long served as caretaker for the Idyllwild Christmas sequoia — coordinating and often providing water, mulch, arborist spray and prayers — coordinating with arborist John Huddleston who volunteered his professional time to assist Mueller’s efforts to save the tree.

“The tree has made improvement this year over last,” said Mueller, who founded the Save the Sequoia initiative to fundraise and nurse the sequoia back to more robust health. It suffers from a disease called botryosphaeria, caused by a fungus that takes advantage of stressed trees to entrench itself. The fungus can cause extensive dieback. “At this point, we’re optimistic and John Huddleston is also optimistic,” said Mueller.

Now, just as the square in the center of town is about to return to the park it once was, and with the removal of the restaurant that sat on the property nearly completed, Mueller is about to turn caretaking of the park trees over to Dave and Loie Butterfield’s Idypark LLC that will continue to work with Huddleston.

“They’ll take over responsibility for the tree health and I’ll continue to coordinate the Tree Lighting Ceremony,” said Mueller. According to Mueller, the new owners are planning to install a watering system for the entire park, which, in the long term, will benefit the sequoia as well.

Idypark LLC will own the park, intended to be a beautiful and peaceful center of the town for the enjoyment of the general public. Shane Stewart coordinated demolition of the restaurant and will make improvements as part of creating the park.

Mueller said she’d continue to monitor the tree but that the work to keep it healthy will no longer be hers.Stewart and the Butterfields have moved quickly to remove the restaurant before the annual Tree Lighting Ceremony. This time next year, with continued caretaking, the sequoia will reign over a peaceful, quiet and beautiful park as a centerpiece of the village of Idyllwild.