Striking a middle ground: Arborist to inventory, evaluate Pondicherry Park trees

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Everyone wants Pondicherry Park to be a safe place to enjoy a walk or run while experiencing nature’s beauty.

Mary Jewett, Lakes Environmental Association’s teacher/naturalist, and Heather Rorer, Loon Echo Land Trust conservation outreach manager, also want to keep the intown forest in a natural state.

So, finding a solution on how to address several hazardous trees along pathways, as well as off the beaten trails, was the question posed at a joint workshop last Wednesday.

Selectmen hosted the session, which included Pondicherry Park Stewardship Committee members (attending were Richard Bennett, Brian Cushing, Dan Edwards, Allen Erler and Jewett), foresters Shane Dugan and Jack Wadsworth and Loon Echo’s Heather Rorer.

There was no disagreement that a need exists to cut several dead or diseased trees. The cost remains a question mark. The group reviewed what funds are presently available, and what the strategy should be moving forward.

As for funding, park maintenance money comes from the Moose Pond Land Trust, while unexpended year-end funds, as well as donations, go to the Pondicherry Park capital reserve.

Presently, there is $5,000 in the reserve account, while the operating budget for fiscal year 2019 is $18,500.

The next question was trickier.

“We are here to find a happy medium,” Selectmen Chairman Lee Eastman said regarding the topic of hazardous tree removal. “We need to keep the park safe.”

Public Works Director Jim Kidder and Deputy Town Manager Georgiann Fleck walked the park’s boundaries and noted the number of hazardous trees seen.

“There’s a lot of problems in the park,” Kidder said.

They reported back to Town Manager Bob Peabody, who, in turn, contacted a forester to give an opinion what should be done.

Forester Jack Wadsworth of Wadsworth Woodlands in Cornish (specializing in timber harvesting, consulting and land management with 44 years of forestry experience) checked the property and deemed it “dangerous.” He suggested a light timber (biomass) harvest, which would entail cutting and chipping dead trees.

Another opinion was offered by Maine Forest Service district forester Shane Duigan, who covers 10 towns including Bridgton, Baldwin and Casco. Duigan walked the park with Loon Echo’s Jon Evans, and noted that he did not want to critique Wadsworth’s report because he wanted to bring a “fresh set of eyes” on the issue.

First point to consider, Duigan said, is the park’s mission vs. the goals of a woodlot. Is there a management plan in place?

As Jewett pointed out early in the discussion, the goal is to keep Pondicherry Park as a forest, allowing nature to run its course, including letting downed trees or branches off the trails to decompose naturally. She pointed out that these trees often turn into homes for forest wildlife.

Based on this “mission,” Duigan recommended the use of an arborist to evaluate each tree’s condition and use a rating system in regards to hazard. Then, a schedule is created to remove “X” number of dangerous trees each year, with a new inventory check done the following season to update the list. With the amount of money in the park’s budget, eight or 10 trees could be addressed this year. Some trees extend to 100 feet in height.

Selectman Bear Zaidman questioned what happens if the number of hazardous trees reaches 100 — including trees that are away from trails, yet could still pose a danger to walkers and runners who stray from established paths, as seen on cameras installed within the forest. If numbers reach that level, the town might have to consider other options.

“I don’t want to see anyone get hurt, not on my watch,” Zaidman said. “We know there are hazardous trees in the woods, and while we’re not liable if someone is killed or maimed, it bothers me.”

Eastman agreed. “We know they are there and we need to address it,” he said.

Jewett suggested that more signage could be installed, instructing users to stay on established paths, as well as noting that use of Pondicherry Park is at one’s own risk.

She also noted that removing trees and opening the forest’s canopy would allow more light to enter the property and enable proliferation of invasive plants.

After an hour and a half of discussion, the group came to a consensus to hire an arborist to inventory and evaluate trees in Pondicherry Park.

Kidder received an e-mail Tuesday from Q-Team in Naples, quoting an estimate of $1,600 to conduct a “thorough assessment” of the park, and rate possible hazardous trees by tagging them with various colored tape.

Selectmen voted 5–0 to hire Q-Team.

 

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