Shade Tree Committee Split On Recommendations For The Merry Maple


Merry Maple, Amherst, MA. Photo:

Report On The Public Hearing of the Public Shade Tree Committee, August 9, 2022

This hearing was held over Zoom and was recorded.

Bennett Hazlip, Julian Hynes (co-chair), Ellen Keiter, Shoshona King, Henry Lappen (co-chair), and Sarah Lawler

Staff: Alan Snow (Tree Warden)

A pubic hearing was held to review the proposed removal of three public shade trees on the North Common including the “Merry Maple.” Although Tree Warden Alan Snow recommended removal of three Norway maple trees in declining health from the North Common, it is only the 50 inch Merry Maple that has generated controversy among committee members and the public. There was little objection to removing the 14 and 15 inch Norway maples, one near the Spring Street parking lot and the other across from the former A.J. Hastings store on North Pleasant.

The North Common is slated for a revitalization project that will improve accessibility and ameliorate erosion issues. The parking lot on Main Street will be replaced with a plaza and grassy area. The project will be paid for by previously allotted Community Preservation Act funds and an $800,000 federal parks grant.

As an introduction to the public hearing, Sarah Lawler pointed out that the Public Shade Tree Committee is a volunteer committee advisory to the tree warden. She said, “All of us love trees, and have no personal interest in the proposed design for the common.” Co-chair Julian Hynes added that some members of the public have requested actions outside of the realm of the committee and some outside the jurisdiction of the tree warden as well. He explained that the final decision regarding the fate of the Merry Maple will be made by the Town Manager based on the information from the committee and input from the public.

Snow began the meeting with a PowerPoint presentation illustrating the declining health of the Norway maples on the common. He showed a photo of a large branch that fell from the Merry Maple after a light snowstorm in December of 2016, saying that “Trees don’t heal, they compartmentalize decay.” He said he was asked to evaluate the trees on the North Common, and the three Norway maples are the least healthy, with the shortest remaining lifespan. The remainder of the shade trees are in good health. As part of the North Common revitalization, 13 smaller trees will be planted.

Snow was unsure how much the design could be altered, now that funding has been secured. The accessible path planned to traverse the common would interfere with the root structure and drip line of the Merry Maple, further contributing to its decay, even if extensive pruning was undertaken to prolong its life for several years. He noted that a smaller, healthy maple tree was used as the Merry Maple until at least 2014 and could be used again for the annual celebration.

In public comment, Sarah Articolo, who grew up in Amherst but currently lives in Longmeadow, noted that the annual tree lighting ceremony began in 1966. She wondered when the Merry Maple would be removed if it was decided to do so. Snow thought the trees would probably taken down in fall or early winter, possibly prior to this year’s tree lighting.

Adrian Stair said he would very much like the Merry Maple to be preserved. He said, “It is an icon that we have named, and there are ways to prolong the life of this truly great tree”. He noted that the tree could be a focal point for the common, so the community can regroup after the pandemic.

Britt Crow-Miller a member of the Department of Environmental Conservation at UMass, also thought extreme measures should be taken to preserve the tree for the community. She said it still gives shade and oxygen and, even though Norway maples are a non-native tree, they have been in the area for over 350 years, so labeling them as invasive seems like an excuse to remove them. She opposed cutting down the Merry Maple unless it posed an immediate safety risk. Committee Co-chair Henry Lappen clarified that the Public Shade Tree Committee has agreed that we would not cut down healthy Norway maples, but would not plant new ones.

Craig Awmiller criticized the process surrounding the decision. He felt that the decision to remove the Merry Maple was made prior to obtaining public input, but Snow said the redesign of the common was first discussed five or six years ago and that there have been many public meetings. The original design would have resulted in replacing all the existing trees, but the Engineering Department developed a design that retained all but three trees. The matter only recently came before the Public Shade Tree Committee.

Committee member Bennett Hazlip noted that the health of the Merry Maple was questioned prior to the development of the plans for the North Common. He pointed out that having trees of different ages would be healthier for the Common in the long run, so he supported planting young trees to complement the existing mature shade trees. He added that although radical pruning could decrease the risk of failure of the Merry Maple, the issue would probably need to be dealt with again within five years, so money could be better spent.

Lawler said she loves the Merry Maple and was glad to see people in the community come out to express their affection for the tree. Shoshona King wanted to know if the North Common project could be done in phases to preserve the Merry Maple as long as possible, but Snow thought this would be challenging because the leveling of the common and creation of the path would further damage the tree.

The committee voted 3-1-2 to recommend removal of all three trees. Hazlip, Lawler, and Ellen Keiter voted yes, King voted no, and Lappen and Hynes abstained.

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