"It's a living thing," Karen Cooper tells PEOPLE. "It is nature's playground for all to enjoy"

By Jason Duaine Hahn
March 28, 2018 03:59 PM

In one of the most unconventional wedding ceremonies ever, a bride read vows to a 100-year-old tree that was in danger of being cut down.

Karen Cooper, 60, “married” a ficus tree in front of dozens of neighbors on March 24 at Snell Family Park in Fort Myers, Florida. The event—which featured music, mimosas, and a tree-themed cake—was meant to bring attention to the city’s plans to remove the tree due to a developer’s complaints that the branches went over an adjacent lot they are currently selling for $1 million. When Cooper found out the tree was getting the ax, she decided to go out on a limb and hop into action.

“I just caught wind of it because someone mentioned it, the city did not notify everyone in the area,” Cooper, who has one grandson and two children of her own, tells PEOPLE. “They only notified the people who were within 500 feet of the tree, and when the neighbor told me, I was floored.”

While brainstorming ways to save the tree, Cooper—who is currently single—got the idea to marry it when she came across a report of women in Mexico who dressed in full wedding gowns to marry the trees they wanted to protect from deforestation. By doing something similar, she thought she could save the tree that, essentially, just needed to be trimmed.

Karen Cooper with her grandson
| Credit: Karen Cooper

“Instead of just trimming it, they’re talking about removing the whole tree and it’s like 130 years old, and it’s just where people gather,” Cooper says. “It’s where people play. Children climb up — everybody climbs up in that tree. It’s a beautiful, big part of our neighborhood that I don’t want to see cut down.”

Credit: Karen Cooper

Cooper wasn’t the only one to read vows during the ceremony—she says up to 70 of the guests all promised to protect and preserve the ficus tree. They didn’t bring any rings, though, as Cooper says the tree already has enough of those!

“It’s a beautiful tree. It’s just beautiful and it throws a lot of shade in the Florida heat, and it sits on the riverfront in a sunset park,” Cooper says. “This was just a fun way to bring attention to a very serious matter, that they’re going to cut down our beloved tree and that it’s the focal point of the park.”

Cooper says she was also surprised the city would opt to tear down a tree when so many were ripped from the ground when Hurricane Irma hit the state last year.

Karen Cooper with neighbors
| Credit: Karen Cooper

“It took down so many trees. We lost some really nice trees,” Cooper says. “And we’re wondering, why would they want to cut down a perfectly beautiful tree that’s made it through Irma and Charlie and Wilma and Isabelle and Donna?”

Turns out, Cooper’s wedding did the trick. During a meeting with the Beautification Advisory Board on Tuesday, Cooper says the city has decided to spare the century-old tree.

“I’m fairly certain that most people enjoy their trees and like to see the wildlife, the squirrels and the birds and everything that the tree does. It’s a living thing,” she says. “It’s nature’s playground, that’s what this tree is. It is nature’s playground for all to enjoy.”