WINTER HAVEN, Fla, (WFLA) – A few cut branches off a tree might not usually cause a stir but the “rope swing” cypress tree on Lake Eloise is a special tree.
“I’ve had customers, they grew up here and they remember that swing rope when they were kids,” said Francis Maldonado, fleet manager at Freedom Boat Club of Winter Haven.
Maldonado rents boats to members and guests on the Chain of Lakes and often, they go to the “rope swing.”
“This weekend we heard some of our customers, they were, of course, confused about what’s going on with the swing rope,” he said.
Members of the community noticed someone had cut branches off of the tree.
It sits in the water on the lake and is, therefore, state property, Polk County Sheriff’s Office records show.
In many cases, cypress trees are protected by state law.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating.
“The FWC is aware and looking into this incident,” wrote Senior Officer Bryce Phillippi in a statement. “If anyone has information about this incident they can contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 888-404-3922 and callers can remain anonymous. At this time, we do not have any additional information that we can provide.”
Somebody attached a rope at the top of the tree so the swinging continues, for now.
The situation has caused an uproar among the local boating community.
A Facebook group “RIP Rope Swing Memorial” has amassed 2,000 followers.
“Somebody has taken it upon themselves to dismantle and disrupt a community who has used this tree for generations and generations,” said TikTok user 6thgen863. “We as a community know who cut that tree. Now, state of Florida, I would like to press charges.”
That user, and others on social media, have pointed their fingers at the new owners of the home behind the rope tree.
According to 911 records, a woman at the home called the sheriff’s office on September 11 to report someone hanging rope from a tree on her property.
“Tree is in the lake. Subjects were never on reportee’s land. One boat was on the sand and reportee did not like it,” reads the call for service records.
Another 911 call came from the home on Sept. 18 about social media reports threatening to egg and toilet paper the home.
“Wife had yelled at them yesterday for tying boat to their property and littering,” the report reads.
The sheriff’s office granted a two week patrol of the residence.
Alex Lucio, the new homeowner, denies any involvement with the cut branches.
He provided the following statement:
“The Lucio family purchased a home on Lake Eloise only in the past few weeks. We were not even in the State of Florida and have nothing to do with cutting a branch. But this is no longer about a tree branch. Our property was unattended and unoccupied for several weeks. Everyone was aware of that. We have gone so far as to engage multiple law firms and a team of private investigators to track down and deal with online threats. We are not taking this laying down. We have received physical threats of injury and vandalism to our property and we will hold everyone accountable.”