Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Desolation of the Shire (Maynard)

Cluster of tree stumps, cut for Assabet River Rail Trail
Maynard and Acton, two small towns in eastern MA are in the beginning stages of construction of a rail trail. In Maynard it runs through the center of town, with much consternation about how many trees are being removed. This column touches on tree clearing and urban trees in general. Two columns earlier is a lengthy description of the project, and in June, a history of same. A construction update has been posted in October.

For those who remember the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (the books, not the movies), after Sauron was defeated, Frodo and his Hobbit companions return to the Shire, only to learn that Saruman and Wormtongue, aided by ruffians and abetted by hobbits who had turned to new ways, were cutting down trees to fuel steam-powered mills. From LOTR: "They cut down trees and let ‘em lie." Later on: "All along the Bywater Road every tree had been felled." After the deaths of uncounted numbers of orcs, humans, elves and one HUGE spider, we the readers were to get our undergarments in a bunch over trees. Trees! For Tolkien, this was a semi-autographical touch - he mourned the loss of the agrarian English countryside of his childhood.

And now we turn to 2016, where in preparation for the rail trail construction through Maynard, 609 trees of diameter four inches and greater have been cut down, woodchipped and soon to be stump-yanked. Yes, I walked the dusty trail from one end to the other, counting tree stumps.  A bit of back-of-envelope math puts the count at a bit more than 0.1 percent of all of Maynard's trees.

Wait, wait, a September update! D'Allessandro decided that all of the trees bordering the trail parallel to Railroad Street were surplus, as were others south of Route 117 and north of Concord Street. Let's up the count to 660 trees removed.

Stumps since cleared, so you cannot challenge my count. My town tree estimate derived from one on-line statement that New England forests have roughly 200 trees per acre five inches diameter or larger; 640 acres per square mile; town area of 5.4 square miles; subtract 40% of the total to account for developed area with fewer trees and water-covered area with no trees. Or subtract 50% to get a better estimate for our tree count and what was cut becomes 0.2 percent.

Tree stumps bordering the planned route of the Assabet River Rail Trail
None of this was a surprise. From the beginning the plan called for a twelve foot wide paved path through the wooded areas, flanked by two foot wide shoulders of either grass or packed stone dust, and in some locations a swale, which is a fancy term for a drainage ditch. The great majority of trees had grown up after the railroad stopped running, in the 1960s. Prior to that the railroad had used cutting and controlled fires to keep a wide swath of land to either side of the tracks vegetation free.

Before we get too deep into this rationalization qua apologia that it was OK to cut all these trees for the trail, I readily admit that some trees are more equal than others. Two healthy London Plane trees at the corner of Nason and Main (both still with us!) are much more valuable aesthetically than a dozen maple trees across from Christmas Motors. The four trees that bordered Main Street near where the Farmers' Market sets up will be sorely missed (as will the hedge); likewise other trees that bordered streets, parking lots, the footbridge, and the back yards of many houses. As compensation, the rail trail project includes in its budget over two hundred thousand dollars for landscaping, including the planting of more than 500 trees. Homeowners wanting even more visual privacy may consider that this is the time to plant a hedge.  

Yellow hauler drags trees to end of section, where orange-armed crane stuffs
trees into blue woodchipper. Click on photo to enlarge.
Maynard has tree work to do separate from remediation of rail trail construction. Nason Street, part of Main Street and the south end of Walnut Street collectively have 36 sidewalk cutouts for trees. Current status is 23 healthy, five sickly, five dead and three empty spaces. Additionally, the grassy strip across from the Fine Arts Theatre recently lost two of four trees and one of the five maple trees planted back of Library has died.

Replacement trees are needed. New sidewalk cutouts could be added farther east and west on Main Street. My point here is that summer shade is an essential part of a walkable downtown. If people are expected to walk between downtown and the mill complex, trees will make that walk more inviting. Worth a mention here that Mill & Main plans call for removing 40 existing trees and planting 88 new trees.
sign looks like.

Another ambiance-improving town project would be to purchase a strip of land between the now empty Gruber Bros building and the Assabet River in order to create a river overlook green space and pathway connecting Main Street to the rail trail.  

Maynard may also consider applying to be certified as a TREE CITY USA community, a designation established by the Arbor Day Foundation. This non-profit, non-government organization sets qualifying criteria as 1) maintaining a tree board or department, 2) having a community tree ordinance, 3) spending at least two dollars per capita annually on urban forestry and - wait for it - 4) celebrating Arbor Day. Neither Maynard nor Stow nor any of the surrounding towns are currently certified, but roughly one in four Massachusetts towns and cities are. Lexington has qualified for 27 years. Cambridge 24, Boston 20. Concord, not. The idea of being a TREE CITY USA is not just having trees, but rather having a government program that manages on streets and in parks.


  1. Great article. Thanks for the information. It would be great if we could create a tree board for the town. Watching all the sugar maples die on my street over the last few years has been very disturbing. How would you suggest getting the town interested in this effort?

  2. At one time Maynard qualified as a Tree City USA, but let it drop (requires annual reapplications). Might be worth contacting Town to urge to reapply. Requires Town to have a tree planting and maintaining plan.