Town's Historic Tree May Be Saved

By Toni Waterman

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Dec. 28, 2011

A "Greater Boston" web exclusive.

WESTPORT, Mass. — There’s not much that can ruffle the feathers of 79-year-old Norma Judson. But when the Westport, Mass., grandmother heard that the town center’s last standing linden tree was scheduled to get the axe, she got downright feisty.
 
“You just don’t go around killing things like that,” said Judson. “There’s no reason to lose such a specimen.”
 
That “specimen” is a 100-foot-tall linden tree that majestically drapes over Westport’s Main Road. It’s the last of six original lindens planted by town forefather John Macomber over 200 years ago.
 
It may be beautiful, but… its expansive roots make it tough to lay down a sidewalk, something the town wants to do. And the state, which will be overseeing the project, said that any concrete used would compromise the tree’s roots.
 
Elaine Ostroff, a member of the town’s improvements committee, described the response.
 
“Mass DOT said, ‘Cut down the tree.’ And we said, “No thank you! We’re going to find an alternative to cutting down the tree.’”

elaine ostroff
Elaine Ostroff, a member of the town improvements committee, described the steps taken to try to save the tree.

That search for an alternative turned out to be a challenge, though.
 
Ostroff said a lot of ideas have been tossed around, such as building a boardwalk over the roots of the tree. That plan was scrapped because it cost too much.
 
“The other idea was an even longer shot, which was to use some gentle, some soft material that would be easy to replace in segments if some of the tree roots were coming up and it would not be as dangerous to the roots,” she said. But that option proved unfeasible, too.
 
The last option was to put the sidewalk behind the tree. That didn’t work either, because the grassy knoll the sidewalk would sit on is private property and the owners were afraid of liability.
 
So with a very heavy heart, Ostroff said the committee voted to cut down the tree — something she felt “terrible” about.
 
“I love this tree,” she said. “It really represents all that’s good and old about Westport.”
 
Word about the tree cutting spread like a forest fire through town, with most questioning why the tree had to go if it was still healthy.
 
“If there was a real purpose and it was sick, that that’s a whole different story,” said Frankie Whelan. “The fact that it may be taken down so somebody could walk there on an old sidewalk that no one walks on is a problem for me.”
 
Others questioned why a better solution couldn’t be found.
 
“I think they could just go around the tree temporarily until the tree is really no longer alive,” said Jim Clemmey. “Then the tree could be removed and they could just replace that little spot with sidewalk.”
 
Meanwhile, Norma Judson said her phone’s been ringing off the hook, with friends and strangers asking what they could do to help.
 
“I’m telling all of them, ‘Send a letter to the selectmen. Let people know how you feel.’ And if our selectmen say ‘we’ve changed our mind’ and the committee says ‘we have too,’ no transportation commission is going to tell us what to do, I’m sure,” said Judson.
 
And tree-cutting opponents have already made some progress. In early December, the improvements committee rescinded its recommendation to have the tree cut down. With all the uproar, it seems the historic linden could be spared the axe after all.



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