New London group wants more tree-lined streets

New London — The newly formed group known as New London Trees has a vision of the New London of yesteryear, when the streets were lined with elms and canopies of shade trees. 

The elms are long gone, but New London Trees, through an urban forestry project, is attempting to restore the city’s tree population through community plantings, education and advocacy.

“Everybody started getting really concerned about what is happening to our tree-lined streets,” said group member Caroline Driscoll. “We want our trees back.”

The fledgling group’s first effort is overseeing the replanting of nine trees along the center median on Governor Winthrop Boulevard.

The current mix of aging dogwoods, cherries and crabapples are slated for removal because they have become “public hazards,” said New London Tree Warden David Denoia, the parks and grounds manager for the city’s Department of Public Works.

Driscoll, who is helping to pick the crop of new trees for planting, said the existing trees are 30 to 40 years old, half dead or dying and were inappropriate varieties to be planted roadside in the first place. Driscoll helps maintain those planting beds as part of her work with the Beautification Committee.

The trees will be replaced with shade trees that will grow much taller and eventually provide shade. Her choice would be a mix of London plane, Northwood red maple, Valley Forge American elm and Tupelos. The trees will be planted in the fall and are being purchased with a portion of a $2,616 grant obtained by the Riverside Park Conservancy from the New England Grassroots Environmental Fund.

Maggie Redfern, assistant director at the Connecticut College Arboretum who is also a member of New London Trees, said the group’s formation was also inspired by the lack of public information about when and why trees are being taken down.

While advocating for a better notification system, Redfern gives the city credit for working with the group on Governor Winthrop Boulevard, one of the gateways into the city. New London Trees is planning to help maintain the trees.

Redfern said the group is also looking to work with the city’s Public Works Department in conjunction with the ongoing sidewalk replacement projects and “choosing the right tree for the right place.”

Driscoll said replacing trees planted in the grassy strip between a road and a sidewalk is not always advisable. She said her group will work with homeowners in an attempt to have a tree planted on private property instead.

There are some existing trees slated for removal, however, that are worth saving. Driscoll said her group would love to save a London plane — closely related to the sycamore — in the area of Plant Street and Montauk Avenue. That work is ongoing.

“It’s not an easy thing to do,” Driscoll said.

A group of Connecticut College interns, in conjunction with the New London Department of Public Works, completed an inventory of trees in New London in 2018, counting and identifying 1,887 trees along city-owned streets and school grounds, excluding Riverside Park and other forested areas.

Most of the existing trees were planted as replacements for elms and include numerous Norway maples, many of which are not faring well thanks in part to shearing from power companies looking out for their power lines.

“They should never have been placed under telephone wires in the first place,” Driscoll said.

New London Trees meets on the second Monday of each month at 5 p.m. at The Public Library of New London. The public is welcome to attend.

 g.smith@theday.com

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