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Greenfield takes stock of its downtown trees

Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. in Town Hall

View of corner of Main Street and Bank Row in Greenfield, circa 1890s.
file photo

View of corner of Main Street and Bank Row in Greenfield, circa 1890s. file photo

GREENFIELD — It you want to know how important trees are to a town landscape, look at old photos of Main Street, where stately elms once created what Nancy Hazard calls “a cathedral of shade” above both the roadway and pedestrians.

The Dutch elm disease destroyed that “cathedral,” but the Greenfield Tree Committee, with assistance from the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, is hoping to restore the tree canopy, with a wider variety of trees, for downtown streets and neighborhoods.

With a $7,500 HUD Sustainable Communities grant, FRCOG Land-Use Planner Mary Praus is completing a “tree inventory” that will support both the town’s “green” infrastructure and its beautification plans.

Praus says she is now mapping street trees from Main to Silver Street, and between Elm and High streets. Each tree is being identified by its GIS (Geographic Information System) coordinates, so that the tree locations can be overlaid on aerial maps, streets and utilities, and will help the town’s Department of Public Works keep track of priority areas for tree-planting and maintenance.

Also, in the event of another major storm like Irene or Sandy, the baseline tree assessment could be used to document damage, so that the town can apply for FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) reimbursement.

“The inventory will be incredibly useful to the DPW,” said DPW Director Art Baker. “Once we have an inventory, we can create a budget for tree maintenance and replacement, more easily communicate work that needs to be done and keep track of work accomplished.”

The baseline assessment of trees includes each tree’s geneus, species, and size. With about three-fourths of the trees already inventoried, Praus said she’s come across some surprises.

“I would say about 80 percent of the trees are mature trees — and there are very few young trees,” she said. “Also, there’s a huge gap in the diversity of the trees. Most are Norway maples.”

Norway maples were once popular trees that were widely planted on streets as replacements for the dying elms, because of their rapid growth and deep shade.

Now they are considered a non-native invasive species. Praus said a more diversified mix of trees is better for towns: if all the trees are the same age, or of the same species, that could mean having to replace them all around the same time as they die off or, like the elms, are killed off by a common disease.

“Trees are a number-one priority in an urban environment,” said Hazard, of the Greenfield Tree Committee. “The aim is to have a 40 percent tree canopy. Urban centers tend to be about 10 degrees hotter in summer than outlying areas, because of all the asphalt,” she said.

“If you have at least 40 percent tree canopy, that casts a shadow on these hard surfaces, so you get lower temperatures that are more comfortable to walk in — and you don’t have to run air conditioners as much or at all.”

She said trees also produce oxygen, filter out particulates that cause respiratory problems, and improve rainwater absorption in the soil. They also create habitat for birds, insects and other wildlife.

Eventually, said Hazard, the DPW will have a complete inventory that could include maintenance records, when and where trees have been planted and when they were taken down.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:
dbroncaccio@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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