With road reconstruction on horizon, citizens concerned about future of Sunderland’s Buttonball Tree

  • In the wake of an upcoming road reconstruction project on North Main Street in Sunderland, citizens have expressed concerns about the future of the American sycamore tree commonly known as the Buttonball Tree, which is believed to be roughly 400 years old. Town Administrator Geoff Kravitz says the historic tree is not coming down and no roots will be cut. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • The historic Buttonball Tree on North Main Street in Sunderland dwarfs other full-grown trees around it. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • The existing sidewalk past the Buttonball Tree on North Main Street in Sunderland. Town Administrator Geoff Kravitz says the upcoming road reconstruction project is set to widen the sidewalk, and that the sidewalk will be moved farther away from the tree. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • A plaque recognizes the Buttonball Tree on North Main Street in Sunderland as having been alive when the United States Constitution was signed. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 4/5/2021 5:11:54 PM

SUNDERLAND — A group of concerned citizens took to North Main Street early Monday morning to advocate for the protection of the famous Buttonball Tree during an upcoming road reconstruction project, though reading a consulting arborist’s report has convinced at least one of them that enough precautions will be taken to protect the town’s “oldest resident.”

Bart Bouricius said he reviewed the report (at bit.ly/31Ufko5) submitted by town-hired arborist David Hawkins of Urban Forestry Solutions, and then joined roughly a dozen people on site. Bouricius, of Montague, said he spoke with state transportation department workers and the impending project’s supervisor at Baltazar Contractors.

“I think that things can be worked out. I don’t think we’re going to have any giant conflict. I was able to finally look at the …. more recent (arborist report) and he seems to be very confident and cautious, and made recommendations and so forth,” said Bouricius, a retired arborist in his own right. “It’s one of the three largest trees in this part of the Northeast. It’s a really iconic tree and it’d be a real shame if anything were to happen to it.”

The Sunderland Buttonball Tree on North Main Street (Route 47) is an enormous American sycamore believed to be roughly 400 years old. It is a common tourist attraction and is significant enough to have its own Wikipedia page. A plaque, embedded in a rock in front of the tree, states the National Arborist Association and the International Society of Arboriculture in 1987 jointly recognized the tree as having been in Sunderland when the U.S. Constitution was signed 200 years earlier.

Town Administrator Geoff Kravitz said the upcoming road reconstruction project is set to widen nearby sidewalks and replace a storm drain underneath the road. A construction schedule is available at: bit.ly/3usw9CP. The project is expected to be mostly completed by October.

Kravitz, who has been town administrator since February 2020, said false statements have made their way around the local rumor mill. He said the historic tree is not coming down and no roots will be cut.

“The plan is to move the sidewalk farther away from the tree,” he said, adding that the town will take heed of the recommendations made by Hawkins and a separate arborist hired by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

Leverett resident Don Ogden was present Monday morning and spoke with some of the workers there. He said a civil discussion was had, but he and others are still concerned for the Buttonball ree’s future.

“This is a historic tree,” he said. “It’s beloved by not only Sunderland residents but people around the valley and the East Coast. It’s quite a tree, I will say.”

Ogden said he has been in awe by the tree since he moved to the area in 1980.

Greenfield resident Gia Neswald, who like Bouricius and Ogden is a member of the Wendell State Forest Alliance, a grassroots organization that has aimed to protect state-owned forests from logging, said she is concerned the reconstruction work will consist of ripping up and replacing the sidewalk, which she said the tree’s roots have grown into.

“Any disturbance to that patch of asphalt or any digging is going to encounter roots,” Neswald said. “It will do damage. And, depending on the extent of roots damage, it could kill the tree.”

Neswald said the tree should be protected for its beauty and history.

“It puts our lifetimes and our life experiences in perspective. This tree has seen historical events going back to early settlement,” she said, calling it a witness tree, or flora that have lived through monumental historical events. “It’s massive. It is gorgeous. It is thriving. It’s a tourist attraction. It’s just a grand being that just needs to be honored.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.




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