Removal of mature trees from McConnell Park leaves a scar

To the Editor:

Protecting mature trees should be a norm in the city’s policies, practices, and mentality. Unfortunately, it is not. It is a constant battle. Citizens try to stay aware and be vocal about saving trees, but for many trees, it is often too late. 

On May 28, the city removed 32 mature trees from McConnell Park in Savin Hill, which is being redesigned and raised three and a half feet to mitigate flooding. The removal of so many trees was not clearly communicated to the community. Until this month, the last public meeting about this project was on Oct. 30, 2018. The city hosted its next meeting three weeks ago, on June 1, to give updates on the project – after the trees were removed. 

When word got around that the project would be starting soon, I emailed the project manager on May 21, to inquire if any mature trees would be removed, how many, and which ones. I was told that 32 trees would be removed. I took a screenshot from their depiction of the six large sycamore trees – the tallest and oldest trees at the park – at its sloping edge and inquired if they would remain.

The response was: “The Olive Green color indicates that they are existing trees to remain. The grading there is relatively minor and would only be removing a tree if it were diseased or dying.”  I was relieved to hear this news. 

On May 28, my neighbor called me and told me they were removing the sycamores. I ran down to the park, but it was too late. One was down, but five were still standing. I found the site manager and he said it was a mistake and that they would not be taking down the others.

When I emailed the project manager, her response was: “Removing the tree was not a mistake, and necessitated by the change in grade of the parking lot.  Upon deeper study with the designer, I realized the information I gave to you based on my initial cursory review of the plan was not accurate.  I apologize for the bad information I gave you.”

The sycamore tree that was removed is at the same ground level as the one next to it. This is not how you build trust with the community.  

I later read the plans submitted for the project, which included detailed information on all the trees that were slated for removal. This document, which was not shared with the community, showed that that sycamore was to be removed. If we had had this information, many neighbors would have rallied to save this amazing tree. Even though I have requested that they replace the sycamore that they removed, nothing can truly replace that tree as this copse of trees likely developed a bond over the centuries together. 

The city’s tree planting goals are meaningless if it is merely a data-driven mission to “plant trees.” Many of those trees do not make it through their first, second, or third year. It seems the city does not even have something as simple as a watering program to water the trees they plant. They depend on community members to water them.

Trees are part of the city’s open spaces and history, so maybe they can put Community Preservation Act funding toward a tree maintenance program.

It is too late to save the trees at McConnell Park. However, it is not too late to save trees in upcoming city projects like Moakley Park’s complete redesign. At first glance, the plans look beautiful. But how many mature trees will they remove? When will trees be considered a design constraint instead of a replaceable asset? It takes generations of time for a small tree to reach maturity and build its canopy. The city will never reach its tree canopy goals if it continues to remove what gives us a true canopy – mature trees. 

Heidi Moesinger
Savin Hill 

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